By Barry Gilbert
St. Louis Post-Dispatch


June 27, 2006

Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives
'Live at the Ryman'
Superlatone/Universal South
Grade: A

Marty Stuart hits the hat trick with "Live at the Ryman," his third CD release in the past 12 months or so, each totally different in genre and intent.

"Soul's Chapel" offered a program of Southern and country gospel; "Badlands: Ballads of the Lakota," was a country rock tribute to the Lakota people, written by Stuart and informed by his close ties to the tribe; and now "Live at the Ryman" is a return to Stuart's roots as a teenage bluegrass mandolin prodigy playing with the Lester Flatt band.

It was recorded in July 2003 with his ace band, the Fabulous Superlatives, plus guests at the legendary home of the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. And it's remarkable as much for how it came together as for its sound.

Stuart writes in the liner notes that he and his band had just come off the road with Merle Haggard and had forgotten about the Ryman show he'd agreed to do a year earlier. So he called in fiddler Stuart Duncan, banjo man Charlie Cushman and dobro master Uncle Josh Graves to augment himself on mandolin, Kenny Vaughan on guitar, Harry Stinson on drums and Brian Glenn on bass -- all of whom also sing.

They met at the Ryman and rehearsed for 20 minutes before the show. Later, on the way out, a Ryman staffer handed Stuart a CD and suggested he listen to it sometime. Stuart had no idea the show was being recorded.

So we hear what Stuart heard: a virtuoso program of country and bluegrass, much of it necessarily familiar, played with back-porch spirit and exquisitely sung, complete with song intros, stage patter and a corny joke from Uncle Josh.

The CD kicks off with a hot Duncan solo on "Orange Blossom Special," Stuart's mandolin bringing Chuck Berry into "No Hard Times Blues" and the magnificent, multipart harmony of "Homesick." Along the way from "Shuckin' the Corn" to "The Great Speckled Bird," Stuart makes a couple of stops at his '80s mainstream country catalog, reinterpreting his duet with Travis Tritt, "The Whiskey Ain't Workin' Anymore," and closing with a traditional bluegrass take on his rockabilly tribute "Hillbilly Rock."

If only somebody had been filming this show.