in performance: marty stuart and his fabulous superlatives

marty and the superlatiives

marty stuart and his fabulous superlatiives: kenny vaughan, marty stuart, paul martin and harry stinson. photo by james minchin III.

“It’s nice to have indoor work,” proclaimed Marty Stuart last night at the Grand Theatre in Frankfort. It was a fitting sentiment as capping off Valentine’s Day with a two hour set of roots driven country music with the veteran singer and his outstanding Fabulous Superlatives combo was far more inviting than the latest love letter Old Man Winter was simultaneously delivering to Franklin County.

While Stuart has had ample share of the Nashville spotlight over his years, his music today bears little, if any resemblance, to contemporary country music. The repertoire last night went heavy on songs penned or popularized by Marty Robbins, Bill Monroe, Johnny Horton, Charlie Rich and other heralded country stylists from decades past along with a few of Stuart’s own hits from the ’90s (The Whiskey Ain’t Workin’, Tempted and an especially twang-friendly This One’s Gonna Hurt You).

Even though modern Nashville didn’t figure into the show, there was a seriously rocking side to the Superlatives, especially within the effortless guitar exchanges between Stuart and Kenny Vaughan that erupted out of the nifty picking during the show opening Stop the World and Let Me Off and continued through to the encore reading of Hillbilly Rock.

But this was also a program full of extraordinary dynamics. While the ensemble Superlatives sound provided enough groove, sass and overall roots country fortitude to Air Mail Special (where the nimble guitar exchanges brought to mind the fabulous electric picking of Clarence White), Parchman Farm (the murderous penitentiary classic Stuart summed up with a hearty “Happy Valentine’s Day, baby!”) and even an impromptu stab at the Bonanza theme, some of the program’s most commanding moments were also the quietest.

A suitably somber Long Black Veil was played with whisper thin clarity, which the crowded responded to with active, attentive quiet while the solo acoustic original Dark Bird proved an efficiently emotive eulogy to Johnny Cash (Stuart’s one time employer and father-in-law). But the kicker was a version of Orange Blossom Special that Stuart took out of its overly familiar context as a fiddle tune and refashioned as a sort of ghost train effigy for solo mandolin. It was the simplest, boldest and most primal sounding entry in this expert roots country primer performance.

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