[This post originally appeared on Fusion Country in April 2018. This review is being reposted for readability and it’s a great album I love to always put the spotlight on. The only modifications are for spelling, grammar and style. Also I plan to post new, original content soon! Some privacy issues sidelined the blog for a few weeks. In addition I’ve been working on a brand new feature/format moving forward, so stay tuned.]
You can’t truly appreciate the sheer talent of a band until you see them live. I’ve had this proven to me time and time again, most recently with Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives. I can definitively say they put on one of the best live shows I’ve ever seen. Marty, guitarist Kenny Vaughan, drummer Harry Stinson and bassist Chris Scruggs are each outstanding, whether they’re playing an instrument or stepping behind the mic to sing. I couldn’t have been more impressed by a band in a live setting. In 2017 they also impressed with their newest album Way Out West, an album I’ve seen many appropriately describe as cinematic. It was without a doubt one of the best of 2017.
Way Out West is a true album, as each song is directly connected with each other. The opening songs “Desert Prayer, Pt. I” and “Mojave” set the scene for listeners and prepares us on a trippy exploration through the desert and the American west. On the latter we get our first tastes of surf-rock tinged guitar licks from Vaughan. The mood is perfectly set as we hear the first vocals from Stuart on “Lost on the Desert.” It’s the story of a man arrested for stealing a lot of money, which he hides out in the desert. Once he’s able to escape the hands of the law, he heads for the spot he hid the money. But the heat starts playing tricks on him and he can’t find the money or any water, as “the devil” had tricked him and left him to die in the desert. This song is such a prime example of vivid storytelling, from the descriptive lyrics to the mood set by the melody.
The album’s title track takes us on a different kind of trip, a drug-induced one. It tells the tales of different instances a man take drugs and the experiences he feels. At the end Stuart tells us of the beauty of the American west, but if you ever go on a trip, don’t do drugs to take that trip. The psychedelic feel of the song sucks you right in and the beautiful harmonies make for a perfect close to the song. “El Fantasma del Toro” is probably my favorite instrumental on the album, in large part thanks to the great guitar work and the Mexican-flavored influences. The song puts me in mind of standing in the middle of a desert, the air dry, as I watch the steam rise in the distance while the sun beats down overhead. It’s the ideal atmospheric song for the American west.
“Old Mexico” is another gem that clicks upon first listen. It tells another tale of a criminal on the run, this time trying to make his way to Mexico to a beautiful señorita and more importantly freedom from a life in jail in the United States. The band’s harmonizing to close out this song is incredible and really adds an explanation point (it was even better live). “Time Don’t Wait” is really catchy, as the hook is instantly memorable. The band delivers another great instrumental in “Quicksand” that takes you right into their cover of Benny Goodman’s “Air Mail Special.” The song fits great into the band’s wheelhouse of foot-tapping, honky-tonk tunes and fits well within this album. “Torpedo” is another song that has some cool 60s, surf-rock influence that would have fit in nicely next to the sounds of Dick Dale. Not many bands could get away with the amount of instrumentals as there are on this album, but most bands aren’t as talented as Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives. Plus all of the instrumentals are just fantastic, a credit to how the tight this band is and producer Mike Campbell.
The somber-toned “Please Don’t Say Goodbye” is a heartbreak tune that sees a man lamenting to his woman to not walk out the door. The backing vocals from the band on this are the real secret sauce behind this song, as it adds levity and almost a haunting feel to the song. “Whole Lotta Highway” is the most traditional moment on the album, as it’s your classic truck-driving country song. It makes you want to hit the road and have an adventure. “Desert Prayer, Pt. II” features some soulful crooning from the band that segues right into “Wait for the Morning” and “Way Out West (Reprise).” The former has a reflective tone, as it’s a “bring it on home” moment after seeing the world and taking in the lessons you’ve learned along the way. Meanwhile the latter puts a fitting cap on the end of an album that feels more like an immersive movie experience.
Many artists in the latter stages of their career rest on their laurels and become complacent. But that’s certainly not the case for Marty Stuart. He’s as vibrant and energetic as any young artists today. More importantly he’s still pushing the creative boundaries to create new and exciting music for new and old generations alike. Way Out West is a shining landmark in his illustrious career and the careers of his Fabulous Superlatives. Stuart and his band revive an old sound and theme and breathe brand new life into it. If only more artists could innovate and follow the lead of this talented group.