Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives w/ Kelsey Waldon @ The Rave
April 7, 2017
There may be music venues in Milwaukee better resembling a honky tonk than The Rave’s bar venue. Any consideration of atmosphere, however, was rendered moot, however, Friday night when Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives hit the tavern’s stage.
Even during his mid ’80s-late ’90s tenure as a commercial country radio hit maker, when he unironically sported a colossal, spiky pompadour mullet and Nudie-styled suits with surfeits of rhinestones and appliques enough to make Porter Wagoner or Webb Pierce look like models of sartorial restraint by comparison, Stuart was an anomaly bordering on the anachronistic. Chops extending back to his teen years playing in Lester Flatt’s Nashville Grass bluegrass band, and later gigs with Johnny Cash, a rich baritone voice, and gifts for writing and choosing catchy material backed his flash appeal with experience and substance.
Stuart and his band’s Rave Bar date found them
promoting their latest thematically unified, sonically expansive album, Way
Out West. Many of Stuart’s big singles of yore didn’t make the set list.
Fortunately, Way Out’s template of exploring the sometimes psychedelic
outworking of country aesthetics from the other side of the Mississippi River
makes for as fine an introduction to Stuart as a newbie may want.
And if it’s not strictly the sort of traditional country that brought Stuart to prominence, it connects some dots other artist may miss. “Whole Lotta Highway (With A Million Miles To Go)” is the kind of truckers’ tale Red Simpson could have made his own, and the album’s spoken word title cut takes cues from Gram Parsons at his trippiest. The collection’s Western rubric gives the opportunity to convincingly include instrumentals in the modes of Dick Dale’s surf music and Link Wray’s proto-metal rockabilly.
Stuart and his Superlatives visited Texas, too, as they assayed one of the prettiest of murder ballads, Marty Robbins’ “El Paso,” just as they played the same song for the Country Music Hall of Fame induction for guitarist Grady Martin. They performed Lefty Frizzell’s “Long Black Veil” in conjunction with Stuart’s recounting of how he and country singer wife Connie Smith visited Merle Haggard to gift him one of Frizzell’s guitars.
The night’s headliner was also a generous bandleader, allowing vocal solo turns for his mates spirited as his own on the aforementioned numbers and radio biggies “Tempted” and the Travis Tritt hit on which he originally guested, “The Whiskey Ain’t Workin’.” He even allowed those sharing the stage with him to dress more colorfully than his solid black motif. Stuart arguably deserves a bigger platform and more success than he has had, but he appeared excited and content to play for a saloon full of what appeared to be mostly committed followers of his work. Other country performers of similar stature would do well to follow Stuart’s graceful and gracious lead.
Kelsey Waldon may be one such artist to follow that lead. The singer-songwriter from Monkey’s Eyebrow, Ky., enthused about being in Wisconsin for her first time and opening for Stuart in a wide-eyed, almost “aw shucks!” sincerity. That winsomeness contrasted against her original songs of loneliness and assertive independence and The Gosdin Brothers “There Must Be A Someone” she made her own. The skillful steel guitarist vied with her for most memorable aspect of her 11-song set, but her willingness to sign a poster for a young fan and enlist all her band to do likewise endeared her to those of us at the lip of the stage. Even if country radio remains aloof to traditional female singers, that’s the sort of kindness that makes careers.