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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    Crazy Horse: The Last Warrior Standing, Defending the Old Way of Life

    On September 5, 1877, Crazy Horse (Tashunca-uitco) was killed while resisting his captivity in a guardhouse at Fort Robinson in Nebraska. During a struggle, a U.S. soldier stabbed Crazy Horse with a bayonet. Many things are still debated about that day, including the name of the soldier and how Crazy Horse resisted.  But it was the end of the great military leader of the Oglala Lakota.

    Crazy Horse was one of the Sioux leaders who defeated George Armstrong Custer’s Seventh Cavalry at the Battle of Little Bighorn in Montana Territory in 1876. After the infamous battle, U.S. soldiers had pursued Crazy Horse and his followers until the Native Americans, suffering cold and starvation, surrendered in May 1877.

    Disputed photo that some claim is of Crazy Horse.

    In 2005, singer-songwriter Marty Stuart released Badlands: Ballads Of The Lakota. The concept album recounts Native American history and struggle. Stuart brought his outstanding musical and storytelling skills to the music.  He has created other wonderful concept albums too, including his excellent The Pilgrim (1999).

    On the epic song “Three Chiefs” on Badlands, Stuart sings from the point of view of Red Cloud, Sitting Bull, and Crazy Horse. He recounts what they might have said after their deaths when they went to another world.

    In the segment in the song about Crazy Horse, the song recounts his death: “In a jailhouse in Nebraska, it was on September 5,/ Crazy Horse was fighting hard to keep himself alive.” After his death, he meets God, who asks what Crazy Horse has to say. Crazy Horse responds:

    “Upon suffering. Beyond suffering. The Red Nation shall rise again.
    And it shall be a blessing for a sick world.
    A world filled with broken promises. Selfishness and separations.
    A world longing for light again.”

    Crazy Horse foretells that the Native Americans will bring healing to the land of suffering.

    “I see a time of seven generations when all of the colors of mankind
    Will gather under the sacred tree of life.
    And the whole earth will become one circle again.
    And that day, there will be those among The Lakota,
    Who will carry knowledge and understanding of unity among all living things.
    And the young white ones will come to those of my people and ask for this wisdom.”

    After Crazy Horse’s death, his body was placed on a burial scaffold, and later his parents took his remains to an undisclosed location. Experts suspect the remains are in an area around Wounded Knee, South Dakota, but no one is sure of the exact location.

    As Stuart sings, “Touch the Clouds took his body, back home to his family,/ Nobody knows where they laid him down, to set his spirit free.” In the video below, two of Crazy Horse’s great grandsons talk about Crazy horse’s death and burial.

    Photo via public domain. Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    Connecticut’s Hangman and Johnny Cash’s Last Song

    With Governor Dannel Malloy’s signature Wednesday, Connecticut became the fifth state in five years to abolish the death penalty. Connecticut makes seventeen states that do not have capital punishment, along with the District of Columbia, as more states are realizing that the death penalty is expensive, unfair, arbitrary, unnecessary, and risks executing the innocent. Similarly, recently the man who wrote California’s death penalty law and the man who led the drive for that state to adopt capital punishment have changed their position and said that life without parole is a better option than the death penalty. For various reasons, the civilizing trend around the country is leading to more states abolishing the death penalty.

    Capital punishment is still used as a political issue, though. Even as Connecticut abolished the death penalty for future cases, it did not overturn the death sentences of the few people currently on death row in the state. So, they may still face the executioner years down the road.

    Speaking of executioners, in this video, Marty Stuart tells about his final meeting with Johnny Cash and how Cash helped him write the song, “Hangman,” which later appeared on Stuart’s album, Ghost Train: The Studio B Sessions (2010). Stuart was inspired to start writing the song after visiting Folsom Prison and seeing where Cash had performed for the inmates. While working on the song, he told Cash about the song, and Cash gave Stuart some help. As Stuart explains before he performs the song in the video below, it was probably the last song Cash helped write four days before he passed away on September 12, 2003.

    The song begins with the singer talking about killing another man today, “I’ve lost count at thirty, and I’ve grown too numb to grieve.” After he tells how alcohol and dope helps him get by, the chorus comes in to reveal the twist. The song is not about a serial killer but the hangman.

    Hangman, Hangman,
    That’s my stock and trade.
    Hangman, Hangman,
    Sending bad men to their grave.
    But who killed who? I ask myself,
    Time and time again.
    God have mercy on the soul,
    Of this Hangman.

    In the video, Stuart tells how Johnny Cash helped him with the chorus and the poetic line, “But who killed who? I ask myself.” The line, and the song evoke the concerns of the Connecticut legislature. Both the legislature and Gov. Malloy realized that the death penalty is not about what we do to convicted murderers. Capital punishment is about what it does to us when our government kills people already in prison for the rest of their lives. Connecticut is saving the hangman, not the prisoners.

    What do you think of “Hangman”? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    Marty Stuart’s “Nashville, Vol. 1: Tear the Woodpile Down”

    Sugar Hill Records has made available a stream of Marty Stuart’s upcoming album, Nashville, Vol. 1: Tear the Woodpile Down. In the new album, Stuart and his band the Fabulous Superlatives present songs with a traditional country sound, with most of the songs written by Stuart. If the sound of the album is not enough to show its country roots, the last two songs bring the point home. Lorrie Carter Bennett of The Carter Family sings on “A Song of Sadness,” and Hank Williams III joins Stuart on Hank Williams Sr.’s “Picture from Life’s Other Side.”

    On Stuart’s website, you may also get a free download of “Tear The Woodpile Down” (“Taxpayer dollar ain’t worth a dime / Government’s got us in a bind”) by providing your email address.

    Check it out.

    What do you think of Marty Stuart’s new album? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    Thanksgiving with Marty Stuart: Badlands

    In a previous Thanksgiving post, we examined one of my favorite albums, Marty Stuart’s The Pilgrim (1999). But in celebrating Thanksgiving, we cannot forget that sitting across from the Pilgrims at that first Thanksgiving, were Native Americans. And, fortunately for us, Marty Stuart recorded Badlands: Ballads of the Lakota (2005). Yes, I realize that the Lakota Sioux were not the Native Americans at the first Thanksgiving, but neither was the Pilgrim from The Pilgrim. But we are using the holiday as an excuse to discuss these two excellent CDs.

    On Badlands, Stuart interweaves country music with Native American themes and music to tell about the the Lakota culture and the betrayal by white men. AllMusic describes Badlands as “an album that is unsettling, provocative, morally instructive, and deeply satisfying musically as a country record that sets the bar higher than it has been set in a long, long time.”

    Stuart clearly intended the album as a tribute to the spirit of the Lakota, who adopted him into their tribe. In “Trip to Little Big Horn,” he tells the story of Custer’s Last Stand as a dialogue with a ghost. “I saw 100 years of Indians, dancing in the sun / I felt the Indian power. The battle is still won / The battle is still won.”

    The title song of the album is excellent, as Stuart predicts, “Well it’s a church without a steeple / But in the heart of its people / Good will come again, to the Badlands.” The three men referenced by the song “Three Chiefs” are Red Cloud, Sitting Bull, and Crazy Horse. Stuart uses the song to find a connection between Native American spirituality and his own beliefs. After recounting the suffering of the “prophets to their people,” he recounts, “The truth is hard to find./ No cross, no crown.”

    Another song, “Casino,” addresses a more recent Native American issue: “Card sharks take my money, whiskey puts me in jail/ An oasis of misery, I know it so well.”

    The CD covers a broad span of history, including Little Big Horn, Wounded Knee, casinos, and even a visit to the reservation by President Clinton in “Broken Promise Land.” But Stuart also remembers that it is an album, not a book, and the story and the music augment each other, never interfering with the other. While the album has not captured me the way that The Pilgrim has, Badlands shows that Marty Stuart is one of the best writers and performers in country music today. He continues the legacy of artists like his friend Johnny Cash, who recorded his own concept album about Native Americans in Bitter Tears: Ballads of the American Indian (1964).

    Badlands received overwhelmingly positive reviews. It is a very good album that also tells an important story. While it really has nothing directly to do with Thanksgiving, the holiday is a good time to also remember the Sioux and the other Native Americans across the continent on that first Thanksgiving day, waiting for the force that would sweep across the land.

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