By Barry Gilbert
Of the Post-Dispatch

Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives
"Country Music"
Columbia Records

August 14, 2003

Marty Stuart has for years mixed country/bluegrass credibility and Nashville bombast. He was a virtuoso mandolin player who was invited to play in Lester Flatt's band at age 14, and he later was a touring member of Johnny Cash's band.

He went solo in the early '80s, with big hair and rhinestone-covered Nudie suits, but it took "Hillbilly Rock" in 1989 before he broke through as one of the so-called New Traditionalists.

A decade of chart success followed, including popular duets and tours with the like-minded Travis Tritt.

His new CD, the simply-titled "Country Music," breaks no new ground, which Stuart would say is the point: Traditional country music is what it is.

And a Marty Stuart CD is what it is, too - burning guitar work, gorgeous harmonies and a sort of mid-'80s power pop meets honky tonk attitude.

The CD is bookended by classics, opening with Porter Wagoner's "A Satisifed Mind" and closing with a relatively obscure Cash tune, "Walls of a Prison."

In between, Stuart flirts with novelty (the dumb, fun and rocking "By George"), and at times comes awfully close to Tim McGraw radio-ready country, as on the electric fiddle and guitar sound of "If There Ain't There Oughta Be."

But Stuart's songwriting saves the day, especially on weepers such as "Here I Am" and "If You Wanted Me Around." "Tip Your Hat" is a mandolin and banjo (by Earl Scruggs) showcase that lists and honors country music's pioneers, including the incomparable Merle Haggard, who guests on the duet "Farmer's Blues."

Stuart succeeds as a country traditionalist because he's not a slave to the past, and as a contemporary artist because he respects the founders. "Country Music" succeeds, too.