Marty Stuart led his Fabulous Superlatives onto the Olympia stage to warm applause and great expectations; Expectations that were met in spades. The 22 song set was an expanded version of the one he played earlier this year at C2C in the 3 Arena and it was a masterclass in how country music should be delivered in 2017. The music touched on many different points in Marty’s four decade plus career, from hits such as Tempted, The Whiskey Ain’t Working and the closing Hillbilly Rock which is a song that could be said to sum up their ethos. As usual Marty was dressed in black with a long jacket and flared leather trousers. The band were attired in their blue sequinned, embroidered Manuel suits - which picked up the lighting and sparkled, as did the band.
Stuart said he’d played in bands since the age of 9 and this was the best he’s ever played with. Something that tonight’s show clearly underlined. Highlights were Kenny Vaughan’s sensitive and dynamic playing that saw him move from Rickenbacker to Telecaster to twin-necked 6 and 12 string Gibson (shades of Jimmy Page) to a Martin acoustic. His skill was breath-taking at times. It should be noted too that Stuart is no slouch and the note for note guitar duets the pair delivered were testament to that. However this band is perfectly balanced and Vaughan and Stuart allowed each other the space to play together with one taking the rhythm role if the other was playing lead. Chris Scruggs is an equally adept musician who plays a Fender Telecaster bass as well as an upright bass in the band. In his own work he also plays guitar and pedal steel amongst other instruments. Harry Stinson is a perfect example of the kind of drummer who understands how to drive the music without ever overpowering it, as so many these days do and he has subtlety and sensitivity in his playing.
All are strong singers in their own right and each took time at the microphone. Vaughan played Country Music Got A Hold Of Me and Nice Like That while Scruggs delivered Got the Bull By the Horns. Stinson played his showpiece, Woody Guthrie’s Pretty Boy Floyd, where he held the note on the word Oklahoma for an impressively long time to great applause. Of course they were able to provide stunning harmonies on the acoustic songs where around a single mic they excelled at three and four part close harmonies. During the set the band left the stage and Stuart told of his difficulties in writing a sing about his friend, neighbour, former bandleader and (for a brief period) father-in-law, Johnny Cash. The resulting song which finally came to him, Dark Bird, was a highlight. Also in this solo set he played a version of Orange Blossom Special that focussed on his mandolin playing dexterity.
Another stand-out was their version of El Paso, a song they had originally agreed to perform as tribute when the legendary Grady Martin was inducted into the Country Music Hall Of Fame. Stuart noted that after he had agreed to do the song he realised just how long and complex it was but well, they are The Fabulous Superlatives and they could perform it as indeed they proved they could. Another tribute was Mama Tried at the request of an audience member. Stuart told of his being asked to preach at Haggard’s funeral and related what a loss Merle Haggard’s death was to him personally and to the world. Humorously he dedicated the song to an acquaintance, Rooster, whom he described as a real knucklehead who decided to start drinking again to honour Haggard’s passing and then decided he was going to jump a train to go to Hag’s California funeral only to discover the train was in fact only going to another part of the town!
There was a focus on the latest album, Way Out West, which Stuart said was the equivalent of spending 21 days on Willie Nelson’s tour bus. New songs included Air Mail Special, Whole Lot of Highway and the instrumentals Mojave and Torpedo. Other songs played included a great version of Endless Sleep written originally in 1958 Jody Reynolds and a hit for him as well as Marty Wilde in the UK. It was, Stuart said, one of the story songs that got him into country music. He is still there, but far from being stuck in a time warp. He and The Fabulous Superlatives keep the genre (in its many forms) vital and very much alive. Stuart promises to be back with the band next year and many of those who were there will be back again too.
Review by Steve Rapid Edited by Sandy Harsch Photographed by Kaethe Burt-O'Dea