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.

8.8/10

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