Ever since forming his backing group the Fabulous Superlatives in 2003, Marty Stuart has specialized in exploring various paths in country music's past. Way Out West, his 2017 album, continues this tradition by taking them and his crew out west to collaborate with Heartbreaker Mike Campbell in a fevered Fantasia of cowboys, truck drivers, surfers, and other rebels. The brilliant thing about Way Out West is that Stuart doesn't limit himself to either the pile-driving sounds of Bakersfield or the burnished country & western sounds of Hollywood cowhands. Each of these styles gets its own showcase -- "Air Mail Special" rampages like the best of the Buckaroos, "Old Mexico" splits the difference between Johnny Cash and Marty Robbins -- but Stuart not only swaps these sounds, he synthesizes them, so Way Out West winds up playing like an idealized version of California country. To that end, he even incorporates the big jangle of the Byrds -- "Time Don't Wait" rings and swirls like prime 1966 psychedelia, a move that shouldn't come as a surprise with Campbell as the album's producer -- and creates a holy ruckus on "Quicksand," which plays like Link Wray teaming with a Cosmic American honky tonk band to play a dive in Santa Monica, or "Please Don't Say Goodbye," a shimmering desert ballad that hints at the lush soundscapes of Lee Hazlewood. For anybody familiar with the rich traditions of West Coast country and roots music, it's fun to spot the influences on Way Out West, but this is neither an exercise nor a history listen. Stuart and the Fabulous Superlatives are having an outright blast indulging in their imagined wild west, and the end results are so clever and kinetic, they're difficult to resist.
Way Out West Review
by Stephen Thomas Erlewine