Marty Stuart Takes Us “Way Out West”

On Marty Stuart’s latest album, Way Out West, the country singer-songwriter finds inspiration in the western United States. But it is not an album of old cowboy songs. Stuart’s songs find their sources in a more modern West.

These are the sounds of electric guitars, not harmonica and an acoustic guitar. The music of California plays a larger role in the album than a cowboy campfire, with songs inspired by the sounds of surf-rock or the Byrds or mariachi or spaghetti Westerns — with a little dash of visions of psychedelic aliens. Maybe this is what Gram Parsons meant by Cosmic American Music.

The album features Stuart’s long-time band the Fabulous Superlatives, which includes Kenny Vaughan (guitar), Harry Stinson (drums) and new member Chris Scruggs (bass).  And Mike Campbell, the guitarist with Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers, produced Way Out West.

Stuart’s website boasts: “The new album, with its atmospheric production and primal rock & roll energy, evokes classics like Marty Robbins’ Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs and Cash’s The Fabulous Johnny Cash, one of the first albums Stuart ever owned.”

Check out the title track of Way Out West, which gives you an idea of the atmospheric sound of much of the album, which also features several instrumentals.

One of my favorites on the album is what sounds like a country road song. So, check out the first single, “Whole Lotta Highway (With a Million Miles to Go).”

Marty Stuart continues to work as an artist exploring new sounds and concepts, not staying stuck in any one place. He has made some great concept albums during the last several decades, including The Pilgrim (1999). So it is cool to see him creating new sounds with a concept that ties together the whole album. It is more of an atmospheric ride or a late-night soundtrack than a collection of catchy songs, but that is okay. It is a fun ride out West.

Way Out West hits the Internet on March 10, 2017.

What is your favorite Marty Stuart album? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    Del Shannon Rocks On

    On February 8, 1990, Del Shannon died after shooting himself in the head with a .22 caliber rifle. Shannon, who had long struggled with depression, left no suicide note for his wife and children. But he left us some great music.

    The singer, whose birth name was Charles Westover, is best-known for his 1961 hit “Little Runaway.” Here he is singing the song in 1973 on The Midnight Special TV show.

    Shannon had some other hits with songs like “Hats Off To Larry,” “Little Town Flirt,” and “Keep Searchin’ (We’ll Follow The Sun).” Below is “Hats Off To Larry.”

    But by the time the 1970s and the 1980s arrived, Shannon’s music career was not going well.  He spent much of the 1970s battling alcoholism.

    Other musicians such as the Beatles and Tom Petty admired Shannon’s music. And despite the lack of another big hit, Shannon continued to work.

    He finally became sober in 1978.  He even scored a top 40 song in the early 1980s with a cover of “Sea of Love,” which appeared on the Petty-produced album Drop Down and Get Me (1981).

    Below, Shannon performs “Sea of Love” on the TV show Solid Gold in January 1982.

    Around the time of his death in 1990, Shannon was on the verge of a comeback.  He was preparing to release a new album called Rock On.

    Also, it is rumored that Shannon was being considered to replace the late Roy Orbison in The Traveling Wilburys. Listening to his voice from that time, one can easily imagine him fitting into that group. But it was not to be.

    The posthumous album Rock On was released on October 1, 1991 and received good reviews. Jeff Lynne (of ELO) and Mike Campbell (of Tom Petty’s The Heartbreakers) worked on the production of the album, so your enjoyment may depend on how much you like Lynne’s production sound at the time.

    But it is worth checking out Rock On, which reveals that Del Shannon still had great talent to share with the world. Below is “Lost in a Memory,” which like most of the songs on the album was written by Del Shannon. I love it.

    The Traveling Wilburys later covered “Runaway” in tribute to Shannon. And in 1999, Del Shannon was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Rock on.

    What is your favorite Del Shannon song? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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  • Where is Tom Petty’s Kings Highway?

    For some reason, I do not remember Tom Petty’s song “Kings Highway” from when he and the Heartbreakers released it in 1991 on Into the Great Wide Open. I did not buy the album at the time, but I do remember hearing other songs from the album, like “Learning to Fly.” Maybe I was out of the loop that year, or maybe it was not played that much on the radio. I only fell in love with “Kings Highway” when a live version was included as a free download when I bought tickets to the Petty Mojo tour. calls the song a “minor gem,” but for me it was like finding a piece of hidden gold in Petty’s back catalog.

    Like John Mellencamp, Tom Petty is one of those artists who has been making music that I like for decades, but he sort of comes and goes in and out of my life. There are some artists where I buy every CD they make, but for most artists, it depends on the time and what I think of the latest music. I have never heard a Tom Petty album that I do not like, and I own several of his albums. But I have never felt compelled to own everything he has done, and because of that, I suppose, I have missed some great songs like “Kings Highway.”

    I have tried to figure out geographically which Kings Highway appears in the song. There appears to be highways with that name all around the world, and there is even a Facebook page devoted to all of them. Is he referring to the ancient King’s Highway from Egypt to Syria? There is a King’s Highway in Jordan, which reminded one blogger of the Petty song. Maybe he is referring to the 1927 British film, King’s Highway.

    Or, more likely is it one of the King’s Highways in the U.S., like the one from Charleston to Boston, or the one in New York state, or the one following the Mississippi River in the South, or one in Pennsylvania or Texas, or one of two in Virginia. Or, most likely, considering he lived in California at the time, it may be the 600-mile El Camino Real in California, which is also called the “King’s Highway.” Perhaps the California connection is why on a recent tour he and the Heartbreakers opened their 2010 Oakland performance with “Kings Highway” (but he’s also used it as an opener elsewhere, like Colorado).

    Maybe the apostrophe is a clue. His song is “Kings Highway,” without an apostrophe, while some of the highway names are “King’s Highway.” Several do not have the apostrophe, but the California road does. So, I am back to being puzzled about finding the real Kings Highway. Maybe there is an interview somewhere where he reveals the location.

    The song, however, may be less about an actual highway than about a state of mind. In the song, the singer dreams of heading out on the highway with his lover “when the time gets right.” In that sense, it is a classic open road song, like Springsteen’s “Thunder Road,” where the highway provides a hope of escape, freedom, and a new life. While Springsteen’s songs in this vein often have a dark undertone, Petty’s “Kings Highway” has a happier tone that focuses on the new life more than the escape part of the open road.

    Still, “Kings Highway” is not an entirely uplifting song. The singer fears being alone, and doesn’t “wanna end up someone that I don’t even know.” And, unlike other songs of escape, there is no actual escape to the open road of the song, as it ends with the singer still waiting for the day “Good fortune comes our way / And we ride down the Kings Highway.” I suspect the characters in the song are still waiting. Perhaps, like me, they are still looking for the location of Kings Highway.

    May good fortune come your way and you find your own Kings Highway.

    Where do you find Kings Highway? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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