Marty Stuart, Fabulous Superlatives Shine on Staples, Deep Cuts: Live Review

Connie Smith and Marty Stuart perform onstage during 2013 Stagecoach: California's Country Music Festival held at The Empire Polo Club on April 27, 2013 in Indio, California.

Karl Walter/Getty Images for Stagecoach

Country stars dive into catalog at Nashville show

Going to a Marty Stuart show is somewhat of a different experience than most country music concerts. Hit records aren’t necessarily front and center.

Friday night’s show at the Franklin Theatre was ample proof of this. Stuart didn’t ignore his hits during the two-hour-plus show, as he gave fans a taste of such '90s staples as “Hillbilly Rock,” “Now That’s Country” and “Tempted,” but the biggest crowd reactions for the evening were reserved for some of the other songs that were on the set list -- including a few that he and his excellent band the Fabulous Superlatives have never recorded.

Calling the show to order with the Johnny & Jack classic “Stop The World (And Let Me Off),” the '60s telecaster vibe of the song also brought to mind the early RCA sides of one Waylon Jennings. (Incidentally, the song was an early hit for Jennings, peaking at No. 16 in 1965). From that point on, the night could have been called “Country Music 101,” as Stuart and the Superlatives dazzled with a collection of songs that paid tribute to some of the format’s most treasured artists.

He gave a nod to the memory of Marty Robbins with a gorgeous take on the Roger Miller-written “Don’t We All Have The Right,” which was also a hit for Ricky Van Shelton in 1988. Van Shelton also figured into another cover during the evening, as one of the highlights was Stuart’s blues laden stroll through “Life’s Little Ups And Downs,” which was a No. 4 hit for Van Shelton in 1990, and was recorded years prior by its’ writer, the late Charlie Rich.

One of the most chilling performances of the night was a almost spooky rendition of Lefty Frizzell’s “Long Black Veil,” which followed a lesser-known Johnny Cash song titled “The Wall.” Both songs gave the Mississippi native a chance to show his dramatic flair.

But, as the old show business adage goes, you are only as good as those around you. If that’s so, Marty Stuart is among the very best, as he gave “Cousin” Kenny Vaughan, “Apostle” Paul Martin, and “Handsome” Harry Stinson each a chance to showcase their talents -- while staying on stage to proved backup to each. Whether it was Vaughan’s “Country Music Got A Hold Of Me,” Martin’s pure honky tonk tribute to Del Reeves on “A Dime At A Time” or Stinson’s moving take on “Dixie,” there was no let down from the audience -- as each of the Superlatives could very well handle the solo spotlight on their own.

Together or solo, watching this band in action is the closest thing to what it must have been like to watch Don Rich, Tom Brumley, Doyle Holly, and Willie Cantu work their magic behind Buck Owens as the Buckaroos some five decades ago. As big of a statement as that might be, they could very well be the only band that deserves mentioned in that same hallowed capacity.

Stuart also gave ample time to talk about his personal influences (and former employers) Lester Flatt and Johnny Cash, and offered a different take on the classic “Orange Blossom Special” -- on the mandolin -- not missing a note. He and the Superlatives also dazzled with a few gospel songs, which are always a highlight of their live shows as well as their highly rated RFD-TV series. They even tipped the hat to Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers with a lively romp through “Runnin’ Down A Dream.”  If there was a note -- vocally or instrumentally -- missed during the night, it couldn’t be heard.

At one point during the evening, Stuart asked the crowd “Ain’t it great to hear some country music?” And indeed it was. It was a cool blast to the past, with four of traditional country’s top ambassadors there to be your tour guides. If you love your country “old school,” and Marty Stuart & the Fabulous Superlatives are coming to your town, go. You will thank us later. It’s honky-tonk in technicolor!

Questions? Comments? Let us know: @billboard

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