Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives

Saturday Night/Sunday Morning

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In 1993, Dr. Ralph Stanley & the Clinch Mountain Boys released the stellar double-album Saturday Night & Sunday Morning, with help from a slew of all-star guests. It featured gospel, honky tonk, bluegrass, and folk songs. Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives' double-length set carries the same title and it's no accident. Stanley's concept left a mark on him: though timeless, the conflicted existence of the sinner/pilgrim has not been articulated nearly often enough in 21st century country music. This follows the excellent Gospel Music of Marty Stuart documentary and recording by five months and is very different in approach. Saturday Night's pleasure and pain songs are updates of heritage country song forms: honky tonk, blues, boogie, and rockabilly The production balances the modern and the classic. It contains none of pop country's excesses, but thankfully doesn't feel retro, either. Rockabilly strutter "Jailhouse," with Kenny Vaughan's Telecaster snarling and spitting, is a disc highlight, while "Geraldine" borrows simultaneously from Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, and Charlie Musselwhite (with a killer guest harmonica break from Mickey Raphael). Hank Williams' "I'm Blue, I'm Lonesome," with its biting fiddle, ringing electric guitars, and swinging drums, is simply masterful. George Jones' soulful ballad, "Old, Old House," is a fine inclusion as well. Stuart's "Rough Around the Edges" is a killer old-school drinking song while "Sad House, Big Party" is an excellent roadhouse boogie. The only real misstep on the disc is "Look at That Girl," which apes Van Morrison's "Gloria" too blatantly. Sunday Morning is Stuart's vision for a 21st century country-gospel that melds the intimacy of the rural Southern church with electric blues honky tonk and the inspiration of the African American Church. And it works. An obvious highlight is "Uncloudy Day." Stuart was deeply moved by the Staple Singers' late-'50s version, and Mavis Staples accompanies him here in a resonant, reverential treatment. "Boogie Woogie Down the Jericho Road" uses the eternal John Lee Hooker riff as fuel for the spiritual fire -- Harry Stinson's rim shots provide further impetus. "That Gospel Music," with Vaughan on lead vocals, contains upright piano and swaggering guitar amid handclaps and a call and response backing chorus. "The Gospel Way" is an electric blues waltz with Barry Beckett's guest B-3 spot underscoring both church and roadhouse, while "Mercy #1," with its four part harmony, weds country, soul, and blues. Stuart's and Stinson's "My God Will Make a Way for Me" is a stellar modern hymn. Saturday Night/Sunday Morning is ambitious even by Stuart's lofty standards. As a whole it works, and well, not in its breadth, but in its depth.

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