After two killer, groundbreaking studio recordings in 2005 -- Souls' Chapel and Badlands -- about the last thing one would expect from Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives was a live bluegrass LP recorded at the historic Ryman Auditorium. To be accurate, Live at the Ryman was recorded in July of 2003. In addition to his regular band -- which includes guitarist Kenny Vaughan, Harry Stinson on snare drum, and Brian Glenn on bass (all of whom sing) -- guests that night are in the stratospheric category: fiddler Stuart Duncan, banjo master Charlie Cushman, and pioneering dobro boss Uncle Josh Graves. According to Stuart's liner notes, there was a 20-minute rehearsal before the gig to agree on tunes to play. That was it.. If he's not jiving, this is an even more astonishing record than its sound and contents give up. The set opens with a rollicking "Orange Blossom Special," with Duncan literally tearing up the middle, improvising on the theme with reckless abandon. Stuart then throws a curveball, letting his mandolin dig deep into the blues and Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode" riff on "No Hard Times." It slows down a bit for the wonderful old hillbilly blues tune "Homesick," with killer vocal harmonies. "Shuckin' the Corn" is a vehicle for Charlie Cushman, who tears it up from the inside and quotes "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" as Duncan kicks into high gear with a solo and Cushman comes back right at him turning the mode inside out. There is no stopping this band, who follow the twists and turns of the tune like jazzmen. Honky Tonk gets a nod here as well with "The Whiskey Ain't Workin' Anymore," though done in proper bluegrass fashion -- Jimmy Martin would be proud of the treatment of this tune. The read of "Train 45" has Josh Graves' signature technique all over it, and his sense of humor, as well. When it all comes to a romping close with Stuart's own "Hillbilly Rock, done in hardcore bluegrass fashion that unearths the true roots of the savage rockabilly played by Johnny Burnette, Gene Vincent, and Elvis in his earliest incarnation. Something special has happened in that these musicians have brought everything from the Mississippi Delta to the Carter Family to the Monroe Brothers and the Stanley Brothers to rock and roll out in rough-and-tumble display from the heart of mountain music. This one smokes.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek