Album Review – Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives – “Altitude”
You can’t think of Marty Stuart as a relic of country music, even if he came up playing with Lester Flatt and Johnny Cash, and had his commercial peak over 30 years ago. He may be only a few months away from qualifying for Social Security checks, but there’s nobody out there pushing the creativity of country music to the edges of human consciousness like Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives are doing here, even among the gaggle of young bucks fresh and hungry to make their mark.
Marty’s West Coast psychedelic country phase may have been strangely bisected by six years since his album Way Out West came out in 2017 thanks to a pandemic and trying to get his Congress of Country Music up and running down in Mississippi. But the second installment is here now, and it runs circles around other performers half his age trying their hands at song cycles or immersive experiences, or claiming their music is “psych” simply because the put a little fuzz on the guitar tone.
Marty Stuart was born and raised a good Christian boy. But all those pilgrimages to the Sioux Reservation in South Dakota must have resulted in a dosing or two of something, or a special puff from the peace pipe that put Stuart in a 1960s state of mind. Perhaps even more than 2017’s Way Out West, Marty is paying homage and finding inspiration in The Byrds and other cosmic cowboys.
This isn’t a songwriter album. It is a vibe album. You push play, ease the chair back, roll the windows down, and lose yourself in the experience. Though the time and place that Altitude attempts to summon is static, Stuart and the Superlatives find a rather tremendous amount of variety within that period to entertain and enlighten. The song “Sitting Alone” has a very distinct Byrds/Roger McGuinn 60s jangle pop sound. But “Altitude” is as classic 60s country as it comes, straight from the Capitol Records Bakersfield era.
Altitude not only makes for a good travelogue back in time or a road trip soundtrack, it also traces the intertwined nature of American music influences in illuminating ways. For example, the guitar on “Time To Dance” distinctly reminds you of Tom Petty’s Mike Campbell, and perhaps the song “Makin’ Some Noise” from the Heartbreakers in 1991. Just like Marty is doing here, Tom Petty also pulled from those California country influences to infer his original sound.
Marty’s last album Way Out West happened to be produced by Heartbreakers guitarist Mike Campbell. But for this one, all of the Fabulous Superlatives are credited, including guitarist “Cousin” Kenny Vaughan, drummer “Handsome” Harry Stinson, bass player/multi-instrumentalist Chris Scruggs, and engineer Mick Conley, along with Marty of course. You can’t complain about how the collaborative effort resulted in an album that is cohesive, yet expansive in how it stokes the imagination with bold colors and visionary soundscapes.
When you heard a sitar would be involved, you knew the level of commitment into re-imagining the 60s sound would be deep. Chris Scruggs also lent a little Sitar to Way Out West, but only for ambiance. Here it is featured as the primary instrument on “Space.” The guitar work on the album is mastery, and featured in so many different attitudes. Marty Stuart does his B-Bender best on the smokin’ tune “Vegas,” while “Tomahawk” is reminiscent of Tennessee Three-era Johnny Cash.
Though the various influences on the respective tracks might be stark and obvious in their origination, it’s how Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives pull it all together so seamlessly, and intersperse some “Lost Byrd Space Station” interludes throughout the album that make Altitude not just conceptualized, but original in it’s expression and expansive scope.
Marty Stuart remains always country music’s most “radical preservationist” as he likes to put it. But he holds no prejudice when it comes to that preservation work. California, the Bakersfield Sound, and the cosmic cowboys born out of the 60’s and the psychedelic age deserve radical preservation too, and to have their influences revived in the modern era. And who better to do this than Marty Stuart.
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Purchase Altitude from Spinefarm
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May 19, 2023 @ 8:14 am
Yes , yes now this is real country. Cannot wait to get this superb album. Love the songs. Marty’s voice is still just as great, by the way Trigger is this part of his 3 album deal or is that is something that is still to come? Either way, I have been waiting for new music from Marty, and it was worth the wait.
May 19, 2023 @ 8:20 am
Yes, I believe this is one of the three albums he promised he had in the can when he signed to Snakefarm. There are also rumors out there that he has a surf guitar album ready to go, but we’ll see. Not sure if this is part of a “trilogy” of West Coast country albums, but it could be.
May 19, 2023 @ 8:51 am
A SURF GUITAR ALBUM? I would love that! Hope that is true and thanks. I am really looking forward to see what else Marty Stuart has cooked up!
May 19, 2023 @ 8:36 am
Probably won’t be the album of the year or have a song/single of the year because the standard is usually slow and sad equals deeper/better. I contend that fast and happy is more difficult to convey and deeper in 2023. Therefore, this album is an easy choice for top honors come years end.
May 19, 2023 @ 11:39 am
Great observation Brad. Yep, Kyle favors the weepers over the bangers. But THIS! Yes to telecaster twang, Buck and Don, Bakersfield, echo delay, vintage fender tweed amps with vacuum tubes, and that magnificent, glorious B- bender!!!
Love it, love it, love it! This is my album of the year, all the way….long live the mullet man and Clarence!
May 19, 2023 @ 8:53 am
This is an album I wouldn’t even have tried to put on the number scales. TWO THUMBS UP. This album begs to be played loud!! And I am all for it.
What a great piece of art this is. SO ENJOYABLE!
I watched the Stagecoach Set and he played a few on these, and I was really digging it.
This is a home run for me.
May 19, 2023 @ 9:39 am
The wife’s out of town this weekend and I have some leftover fungi from the Billy Strings shows last weekend. Sounds like a good weekend to listen to this loud. Now if only the sun would come out for a bit. I’ve never seen it this rainy and gloomy in CO for so long.
May 19, 2023 @ 9:42 am
Oh MAN. BMFS.. I am going to the Austin Show.. Then 2 in VT one in Boston and one in Maine in July.. Music that just feels right.. This Marty Stuart album feels right like that right now..
May 19, 2023 @ 8:53 am
Hello from Denmark.
Great review. Great album, i love it.
May 19, 2023 @ 9:39 am
I’m only on my second listen, but I’m liking what I hear. As someone mentioned above, this album is just begging to be turned up loud.
May 19, 2023 @ 9:43 am
Oh hell yeah. This is a fantastic companion to Way Out West, which is one of my favorite albums of the past decade+.
May 19, 2023 @ 9:44 am
This really reminded me of Marty Stuart back in the day. Same style, same great voice. Definitely worth a listen.
May 19, 2023 @ 9:55 am
Love the album, as I knew I would. The Superlatives are one of those rare acts that have both a technical mastery of their instruments and a tight, cohesive sound where everything just sits in the mix and is just right. It’s not just great production; they’re live sound is some of the best I’ve ever heard, regardless of genre. I put them up there with bands like the Flecktones: they amaze me everything.
Marty Stuart is one of the true good guys! Love the man and all he does. He’s a true national treasure.
May 19, 2023 @ 11:12 am
Another great album from Marty and the boys. I agree with the commenter who compared the superlatives to the flecktones, they were one of the best bands I’ve ever seen live. Super tight. Marty’s gotta be one of the coolest guys on the planet, it kind of blows me away that a band of guys old enough to be my grandads are making some of the psychedelic country out right now.
May 19, 2023 @ 11:15 am
Sounds like a good album to put on while going for a cruise. Also Kenny Vaughan seems like a really cool guy.
May 19, 2023 @ 11:42 am
Yes, yes, and yes. This is music with intergity. Many could learn from the country maestro Marty and the Fabs. Thanks for the feature Trigger.
May 19, 2023 @ 1:27 pm
digging this so far!!!
May 19, 2023 @ 3:44 pm
This sounds amazing, definitely buying it on vinyl! Especially well timed since this June marks the 50th anniversary of the death of Clarence White, who by the age of 28 had redefined bluegrass, country and psychedelic guitar. Also invented the b bender and Marty is playing the original. Probably a much bigger influence than Campbell, though Campbell is certainly influenced by Clarence. Was listening to Arlo Guthrie’s second album last night which features Clarence White, Ry Cooder and James Burton. Marty is up there with all of them!
May 19, 2023 @ 5:42 pm
In 2023, Marty Stuart IS country music and this record proves it.
God bless this man.
May 19, 2023 @ 5:59 pm
What more can I add? Marty & the Superlatives are a great band, put on excellent shows, and have a very, very, cool album here! Its funny, I always think Marty’s work is hard to describe to non Country fans, and he isn’t defined by one famous song, but I guess its just Marty being Marty and such a great representative of all that is good in Country Music!!
May 19, 2023 @ 7:36 pm
Trigger nailed it with the “vibe album” comment.
This is one of those albums you put on, grab your favorite ‘relaxicants’ and settle in for a session.
May 20, 2023 @ 1:44 pm
a tribute to an era and a sound i’ll always love but made in a superlative way! True mastery here.
May 20, 2023 @ 2:29 pm
One of the things I love about this site is the good faith disagreements that everyone has on most of the big names in independent country, and hearing everyone’s different takes. But it is so cool that everyone can agree on Marty Stuart- there are only a handful that you can say that about.
May 20, 2023 @ 4:23 pm
Whose car is on the inner sleeve? Thought Webb at first but that’s not it.
May 31, 2023 @ 6:45 pm
A Byrdsadelic 45 minutes. I’m 2 miles high. 8 thumbs up!