Marty Stuart

Honky Tonkin's What I Do Best

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Honky Tonkin's What I Do Best is a rather strange record for Marty Stuart, while remaining unquestionably something that reflects his character as a songwriter. Produced by Tony Brown (a producer who unquestionably gets most of the credit -- as well as the criticism -- for the contemporary country sound), the album was recorded in 1996. Stuart wrote or co-wrote virtually all the cuts on the set, some with friends, others with members of Brown's ready stable of go-tos at the time, like Kostas. The title cut, a duet with Travis Tritt, is stellar; it's classic rockin' rowdy honky tonkin' Stuart at his best. Then there's "The Mississippi Mud Cat and Sister Sheryl Crow," a song he wrote specifically for the pop diva, where though he is stretching to the point of near novelty, he and his killer band of crack sidemen manage to pull this tune -- with its clunky title -- off. That said, this is a rather low-energy effort for Stuart. The production is oftentimes over the top, blunting his delivery as a singer and as a guitar and mandolin picker; at others times it is too soft, detracting from what could have been a better way to present Stuart in a mellow mood. Stuart wrote or co-wrote all the tunes, and he and Kostas came up with a fine ballad in "You Can't Stop Love." But "Country Girls" is a rehash of an earlier tune of his called "Western Girls" -- it worked, but this one doesn't. Overall, the album falls kind of flat. It doesn't deliver on the promise of earlier albums, nor does it capture the wide-ranging ambition of those he cut after 2000. This is one spot in a long career where Stuart, who has always stood apart from this crowd, fits right in -- to his detriment. If Honky Tonkin's What I Do Best proves anything, it's that Stuart -- not Brown (or any other Nash Vegas producer) -- knows best when it comes to cutting his own records.

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