Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives – Tickets – The Sinclair – Cambridge, MA – April 25th, 2017
Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives
Tue, April 25, 2017
Doors: 8:00 pm / Show: 9:00 pmThe Sinclair
$35 advance / $38 day of show
This event is 18 and over
The Sinclair is general admission standing room only. Tickets available at AXS.COM, or by phone at 888-929-7849. No service charge on tickets purchased in person at The Sinclair Box office Wednesdays-Saturdays 12-7PM. Please note: box office is cash only.https://www.sinclaircambridge.com/event/1441701/
No one understands these coordinates better than Marty Stuart. For over forty years, the five-time Grammy winning multi-instrumentalist, singer, songwriter, photographer and historian has been building a rich legacy at this very crossroads. On his latest release with his band The Fabulous Superlatives, the double-disc Saturday Night & Sunday Morning, Stuart captures all the authentic neon and stained-glass hues of country music – from love and sex to heartache and hardship to family and God – in twenty-three tracks.
"I've always thought that country music had a really unique relationship with gospel music," Stuart says. "It is interesting to me that country stars can sing drinking and cheating songs authentically, then at some point during the evening or the broadcast, take their hats off and say, 'Friends, here's our gospel song.' If it's the right messenger it seamlessly flows. That's a time-honored tradition, from Jimmie Rodgers to Hank Williams to Johnny Cash. Rogue prophets and rogue preachers. That is my world.
"Another part of my world, while growing up in Mississippi, was listening to our local radio station, WHOC. 'One thousands watts of pure pleasure.' In the morning, they signed on with country music and farm reports. At noon they played gospel music for an hour. Then afternoon was rock 'n' roll and top 40. Late afternoon was soul. And they signed off with easy
listening. I thought everybody's radio station was like that. It was kind of a reflection of how Mississippi is. The birthplace of America's music. The church house is the common denominator, and every form of music has a touch of the blues. So I come from that perspective. Traditional country touched me the deepest, but all of these other styles were relevant to me. It felt like just another day at the office."
That day at the office on Saturday Night and Sunday Morning offers a rousing blend of Stuart originals, classic covers and traditional hymns and that throw their arms around the whole history of not only country but modern American music. Kicking off with the revved-up rockabilly rush of "Jailhouse" and "Geraldine," disc one winds through Stuart's grand "When It Comes To Loving You" and the honky tonker "Talking To The Wall" through deeply soulful covers of Charlie Rich's "Life Has Its Little Ups And Downs" and George Jones' "Old Old House" before wrapping up with the positively frantic blues rocket ride of "Streamline." Disc two trades sawdust for sermons, and goes right to the river with the gorgeous "Uncloudy Day," featuring not only the legendary Mavis Staples on lead vocals, but Marty playing a guitar that the Staples family bequeathed him that once belonged to Pops Staples. The Fabulous Superlatives shine with their celebratory group harmony singing on standouts like "That Gospel Music," "Angels Rock Me To Sleep" and "Mercy #1," while uptempo rockers like "Keep On the Firing Line" and "Good News" build the service to a big hands-to-heaven call and response finish with "Cathedral," featuring the mighty soul shouts of Pastor Evelyn Hubbard.
"There are a few twists and turns in the record," Stuart says with a smile, "so I hope it all feels like it's part of the same thing. As a band, that's where we are. It's natural."
Born in the small town of Philadelphia, Mississippi, Marty Stuart caught the music bug early, displaying prodigious talent on every stringed instrument he picked up. At an age when most kids are running bases in little league, 13-year old Stuart was logging cross-country interstate miles as a mandolinist with the legendary Lester Flatt's road band. In his twenties, Stuart toured with Johnny Cash, and also played with other legends such as Bill Monroe, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins. By the late 1980s, Stuart was a solo artist, rising faster than mercury in the heat of a hillbilly fever. But amidst the hits and hoopla, the bright lights eventually revealed a deeper truth.
"I had such a great run, playing butt-wigglin' songs in coliseums, and it was just wearing thin," he admits. "I remember spinning around one day at Foxwoods, up in Massachusetts, there was a full house, the band was really loud, we were doing good, the crowd was screaming and hollering, and I thought, 'I am not enjoying this music.' And then I told myself, 'Well get back to enjoying it, because you're on top of the world right now. Platinum records, Grammys, it was all coming. But I did not like the way my legacy was shaping up. So I took the better part of a year to unwind it. Another issue that fueled that decision was that radio was starting to cool on my records. I was beginning to chase after hits, and it was tearing me apart. I had one record left on my contract with MCA, and I vowed to get back to the music I've always loved the most, and let my heart be the chart.'"
To get some clarity, Stuart consulted his friend and mentor, Johnny Cash. "I went to his house and said, 'J.R., I've got a record in my mind called The Pilgrim. I laid it out to him, and he said, 'Well, just know you're stepping up for rejection. Potentially.' I said, 'I understand, but I've got to do this.' He said, 'If you've got to do it, that's all the reason you need.' So I made the record. It was a great critical success, and it was a line-in-the-dirt artistic moment of reconnecting with my true self, a piece of myself that I had hidden away years before, to go exploring. From that moment forward, I realized that there's a different way to live a life as a musical citizen."
Stuart knew he didn't want to travel this new path alone, so he recruited fellow musical missionaries Kenny Vaughan, Harry Stinson and Paul Martin.
"From the Superlatives' first rehearsal, I knew this was the band of a lifetime," Stuart says. "I knew this was my Buckaroos, my Strangers, my Texas Troubadours - my legacy band. Kenny Vaughan, Harry Stinson and Paul Martin are not only musical geniuses, but statesmen. The Fabulous Superlatives are without question one of the greatest bands of our time. We have played ourselves out of the woods and Saturday Night and Sunday Morning is one of those milestone projects in the band's legacy that truly brings the spunk and fire of the bandstand to the studio. The other person that should be mentioned is the invisible Superlative, Mick Conley. His engineering brings a touch of class and a spark to our music that any band would long for. We are a much better band because of Mick's presence."
With acclaimed albums like Ghost Train: The Studio B Sessions and Souls' Chapel, as well as The Marty Stuart Show, a musical variety program on RFD-TV, Stuart says "I've found my place to drive a stake in the dirt, and proclaim, this is what I believe in."
"I think traditional country music should be regarded alongside jazz and ballet and classical music in the pantheon of the arts," he says. "I thought, 'As a band, that's our mission. Putting our arms around what's left of the culture. Making sure the old timers get loved on and shown dignity.' And then it became, let's show young musicians that traditional country music
is alive and well. The message is, C'mon, over here and play it if it's in your heart. RFD-TV gave me a stage and a broadcast to put country music and Saturday night back together. Those two entities were made for each other. We've just finished our 156th episode of The Marty Stuart Show. It's been pure magic."
All of Stuart's immersion in authentic country music has also found creative expression through the lens of a camera. Inspired by the photographs of jazz drummer Milt Hinton of his fellow musicians, Stuart realized in the early 1970s that he could fill a similar role as a chronicler. And for decades, he's been capturing strikingly beautiful images of performers and fans that feel like little windows into the soul of our country.
A collection of his most resonant photos is currently on display in an exhibit called American Ballads at Nashville's Frist Museum (also a new coffee table book published by Vanderbilt University Press), and later this year, a second exhibit of his work called The Art of Country Music will open at the Sheldon Gallery in St. Louis.
Of his photography, Stuart says, "Whether it was the doorman at the Opry, or Ernest Tubb's bus driver, or stars or songwriters or musicians, everybody stood still for me and let me take pictures. I'd aim to capture what they all meant to me. It was basically like taking pictures of my family. It takes a tribe to raise a kid, and they were my tribe. All of those people invested something in me when I was a kid, and I wanted to remember that kindness. The thing about that era of those old masters is that most of them were really country people. They were down to earth. Basically, farm people who'd come to town and got a job singing songs. That's what I related to, coming from Mississippi. The other side of it, I wanted to take pictures of my life on the road to send home to my family and they could see what I what I was up to. It was basically documenting family.
"Songwriting, photography, guitar playing, entertaining, singing, designing TV shows - it's all the same thing to me," Stuart continues. "If I take a good photograph, it absolutely makes me do everything else better. If I play a good guitar solo, it absolutely affects how I take the next picture. It's all interwoven."
With Saturday Night and Sunday Morning set for an autumn release, and more touring ahead for the Superlatives, Stuart says his expectations are high, but grounded in reality.
"I heard Aretha Franklin say something one time that I never forgot - 'When I do something new, I always wonder if people will like it, but I step forward, present it, close my eyes and stick out my hand and hope somebody takes it.' I thought that was a beautiful way to put it. I hope the new album is accepted. Starting with The Pilgrim forward, I chose a very different path, an unthinkable path, to tear down such a huge wall of success and go, 'That was wonderful, but I'm gonna do something different now.' And basically start over. I look back at what we've done with the Superlatives over the last twelve years, and I'm very proud of it. That legacy that I didn't see forming right that day at Foxwoods, I have a better feeling about it now. And as the old song says, 'I do believe everything's gonna be alright.'"
Although his self-titled new Rounder album will serve as his introduction to many listeners, the personable young artist is actually a seasoned, distinctive songwriter and an experienced performer with a quartet of D.I.Y. indie releases to his credit. Having built a substantial grass-roots fan base through tireless touring and old-fashioned hard work, McConnell is primed for a mainstream breakthrough.
Sean McConnell demonstrates exactly why McConnell has already won such a devoted audience. He writes vivid, forthright, effortlessly catchy songs whose incisive melodic craft is matched by their resonant emotional insight. Such instantly memorable tunes as “Holy Days,” “Beautiful Rose,” “Bottom of the Sea” and “Best We’ve Ever Been” are both catchy and personally charged, conveying an unmistakable sense of personal experience while exploring universal truths.
“This record’s a bit of a step for me,” McConnell asserts. “It’s a real storyteller record, and it’s pretty autobiographical. I’m learning how to be more honest and understated in my writing, and I wanted to match that sonically and vocally. When I look at this collection of songs, I see a lot of nostalgia, and looking back on sacred moments. I’m kind of nostalgic and reflective by nature.”
McConnell recorded the album in his adopted hometown of Nashville with producers Jason Lehning and Ian Fitchuk, who also contributed keyboards and drums, respectively. The recording took place prior to McConnell signing with Rounder, with the artist financing the sessions himself.
“This project started,” he explains, “when I went to a cabin by myself for a week, with the intention of writing some songs. In that week, I wrote about half of the songs on the record, and I could see the thread of what this record was gonna be. That was exciting for me, because it normally takes me a year to find an album’s worth of songs that belong together. The whole recording process was really fun and liberating, and the energy in the studio was really positive.”
Songwriting and music-making have been a part of Sean McConnell’s life for as long as he can remember. “My mom was a singer and my dad was a guitar player and songwriter,” he notes. “They’d play in coffeehouses and I’d go along and watch them perform, and seeing that lifestyle showed me that music was an option. And seeing my dad painstakingly writing songs had a huge influence on me, and gave me license to feel like I could enter into that world.”
By the age of ten, he had become proficient on guitar and was writing his first songs. “I fell in love with the instrument first,” McConnell recalls. “Learning guitar gave me a feeling of uncharted territory laid out in front of me. And as I got better on guitar, the songs started to come naturally. At around the same time, we moved from Massachusetts to Georgia, and the first song I wrote was about the feeling of leaving the familiar and feeling lost in a new place. Music gave me a focus and became an emotional outlet for me.”
His supportive family background helped to instill the confidence and drive to pursue his muse early on. “I started playing in middle school, doing any gig I could get just to get my chops up,” he says. “By high school, I would be doing local gigs and really promoting them, bringing out a couple hundred kids to my shows a few times a month and starting to make a decent living at it. That made me think that maybe I could do this in other towns. So I started traveling around the southeast a little bit, and there was always enough progress to take things to the next level. While I was in college, I did a lot of college touring, just me driving all over the United States in a Toyota Corolla. It was hard work, but it showed me that I could do it.”
McConnell was just 15 when he self-released his first album, Faces, in 2000. Followed by 2001’s Here In The Lost and Found, 2004’s 200 Orange Street, 2006’s Cold Black Sky, 2007’s Tell The Truth, 2008’s The Walk Around EP, 2010’s Saints, Thieves and Liars, 2012’s Midland and the 2014 EP The B Side Session.
“I had a guitar teacher in Atlanta who had a home studio, and he was the first one to say ‘Hey, you should make a record,'” he says. “If I go back and listen to that first record now, the songs are kind of crude, but at the same time there’s a directness about them that I like. My writing has evolved since then, but at the same time I’ve tried to hold on to some of that directness.”
“I’m really attracted to songwriters who just put it out there honestly, and I feel like I’m getting back to basics and expressing things in a simple, direct way on the new album,” he continues. “I’m just trying to learn how to be a more honest storyteller, trying to get my mind in a place where I’m not actually thinking and the music’s just kind of happening naturally. When I read interviews with songwriters that I admire, they always say that the best songs are the ones that just kind of happen, like they’re operating from the unconscious. That’s a place I want to get to.”
Having spent much of his life honing his craft and paying his dues, Sean McConnell is eager to launch the next chapter of his career.
“I kind of feel like I’ve been in a really long boot camp,” he concludes. “I’m really grateful for that, because I feel like I’ve gained enough experience to know the deal and be prepared for anything. I’m excited to see where the next part of the journey takes me.”
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