Release Date: 07.15.03
Record label: Columbia
Genre(s): Trance, Big Beat, Ambient, House, Trip-Hop, etc.
If It Ain't (#1 on the Country Charts), It Ought'a Be
by: matt cibula
Marty Stuart's last album was one of the finest country records EVER RELEASED, a lovely mysterious big-hearted work of art concept record called The Pilgrim. But it turned out that country fans didn't want anything like that back then, and it didn't sell more than a few copies—unfair, unconscionable, but what are you gonna do? That's the ugly part of the music business.
So what do you do when you hit it out of the park but they don't let you circle the bases? Well, you do what Stuart did: you take some time off, get a crackin' young band together (well, two of the three bandmembers are young), and get yourself out on a barnstorming tour of the some of the most out-of-the-way venues in America. (This is all detailed on the accompanying DVD.)
Then, when you get that band back into the studio, you make a simple album that's actually not simple at all—one that sounds like regular country music, but is shot through with soul and rock and rockabilly touches laid in so gracefully and tastefully that no one complains when you call the whole damned thing Country Music. Stuart and his band just simply cook through twelve songs in forty minutes, and they do so in fine back-to-the-roots style.
The opening tune, "A Satisfied Mind," is a great example of the recurrent "mo' money, mo' problems" strain in pop, a patient and measured justification for not hitting the big time. But it is with "Fool For Love," a Stuart-cowritten western smooth-jam with beautiful doo-wop harmonies in the chorus, that the record really takes off. By the time we get to the first uptempo number, the sorta-kinda-almost-rap number "If It Ain't It Ought'a Be," you really start to have a feel for who Marty Stuart is: a nice guy who wishes he had been born 20 years before he actually was, and really really wants people to like his music.
His charisma is actually just old-fashioned charm—listen to the way he slugs it out with Merle Haggard on the touching "Farmer's Blues." Anyone who thinks that this is kind of a rip of Hank Williams Sr.'s "Lonesome Whistle" is probably right, but it's just an homage after all, especially when Hag says "Yodel, boy," and Stuart busts out with an insanely perfect but low-key yodel, and actually makes you feel it. And when Stuart invites "Uncle Josh" Graves and Earl Scruggs on board for "Tip Your Hat," which is pretty much just a list of other older country artists that don't suck and their best songs, it goes beyond "sweet" and into the category of "sublime."
Not that the whole thing is that way. "By George" is a Stuart original, the silliest song you're gonna hear this year; his girl gets turned on when she calls him George, so he says "Weeeeeell, you can call me George Jetson / Call me George Jones / I'll be your Georgie Porgie / All night long!" But it rocks so hard, and steals such a fake-gospel part from a Neil Diamond song, that you won't mind. And "Too Much Month (At the End of the Money)" is pretty much exactly what you think it is.
But when Stuart is in his blue-collar lover mode, like in the perfect "Here I Am" ("I don't look much like Prince Charming / With Mississippi on my hands / But if you want someone to hold you / Baby, here I am") and "If You Wanted Me Around," or his let's honor country tradition mode (covering Johnny Cash's "Walls of a Prison" wins so many credibility points that it's almost illegal), then he's unbeatable. I love this, you will too, and the fact that this hasn't cracked the top 20 on the country charts just proves that Nashville has to get its long-overdue head-out-of-its-ass-ectomy, and pronto. 12-Sep-2003 8:30 AM