Marty Stuart

Ghost Train: The Studio B Sessions

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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek

Singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Marty Stuart has born the torch for historic country music since his career began. He's literally spent most of his life making and producing records and writing songs that reflect that. Stuart's made some wildly innovative and eclectic recordings that nonetheless bear the watermark of authentic country. Ghost Train is his first studio offering since 2005's twin concept albums Souls' Chapel and Badlands. His last outing was 2006's excellent Live at the Ryman. In his wonderful liner essay, Stuart claims that the inspiration for Ghost Train: The Studio B Sessions occurred on August 29, 2005, in an empty train station in Philadelphia, MS after he heard the news of Hurricane Katrina's arrival in the Gulf. He went and stood on the empty tracks until he heard a northbound train, then moved and stood as close as his courage would allow and had an epiphany. The result is this program of 14 songs, all in the hardcore country tradition, mostly recorded in the famed RCA Studio B in Nashville. Stuart wrote or co-wrote 11 -- three with wife Connie Smith, one with Johnny Cash, and another with Ralph Mooney, whose "Crazy Arms" is here. The other cover is Don Reno's classic "Country Boy Rock & Roll." Stuart is backed by the Superlatives -- guitarist Kenny Vaughan, drummer Harry Stinson, and bassist Paul Martin -- with a host of pedal steel players. There isn't a weak track on the set, but there are some real standouts: the Reno cut is one, as is the stomping opener and single, "Branded." The ballad "Drifting Apart" has harmonies worthy of the Louvin Brothers and a pedal steel solo by Mooney that'll make you weep. "Hangman," co-written with Cash, is a spooky ballad in the old-school storytelling tradition; while Stuart does a fine job singing it, one can hear Cash's ghost rambling through the lyrics. The country boogie of "Ghost Train Four Oh Ten" is a punchy hillbilly rocker, while the instrumental "Hummingbyrd" is a killer tribute to the guitar genius of both Don Rich and Clarence White. "A World Without You," a duet with Smith, is as moving and true as country ballads get. Stuart may not sell millions of records anymore, but he can still make fine records that will stand the test of time; Ghost Train is among the very best of them.

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