Tag Archives: Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives

My Top Ten Albums of 2017 so Far

Editor’s Note: Why didn’t I choose thirteen again? Actually, I was going to, but these ten just stand out above the ones I would pick for eleven, twelve, and thirteen, so they’ll just be in the Honorable Mentions. This has a little, but not much, to do with the original grades given to these albums; it’s more about music that holds up, so some of these might have lower ratings than you’d expect, and there are some that we rated higher that didn’t make this list because I simply don’t go back and listen to them, and for me, that’s what music is all about. It might be a 9 on paper, but if I’m not listening to it months later, that number is arbitrary, so don’t let the numbers factor into it too much at this point. Lastly, just like the songs, these are my picks, not necessarily those of Country exclusive as a whole, and these are, unlike the songs, in order for me.

#10: The Steel Woods–Straw in the Wind

Original Rating: 8/10
This honestly would be higher on the list right now because the first half is excellent, but it does drop off some for me in the back half. Still, it’s a very nice debut from The Steel Woods, tinged with Southern rock, blues, bluegrass, and country; in fact, I’d like to make the point that look how many of these entries are debuts, what a cool year for debut records.
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#9: Chris Stapleton–From a Room, Volume 1

Original Rating: 8/10
Some of you are going to hate me for ranking it this low, and others are going to hate me for saying it’s better than Traveller. But it’s a more consistent effort from Stapleton than his first record, and it’s still holding up nicely.
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#8: Shinyribs–I Got Your Medicine

Original Rating: 9/10
Yeah, okay, this ranks higher as an album than some others that will be higher on this list, and I still stand by that 9 too. It’s definitely the most fun album here. It doesn’t hold up quite as much as some lower-ranked albums coming up because you have to be in a certain mood to play it. But Shinyribs is the type of group you should just let yourself enjoy; they won’t be for everyone, but they should be.
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#7: Robyn Ludwick–This Tall to Ride

Original Rating: 7.5/10
All right, what is it about this one? Well, it just works its way in. It’s unique and cool, and no, the hookers and cocaine all over this record won’t be for everyone, but if you can get past the dark material Robyn writes and sings about, this is a great record. It’s definitely being underappreciated, and I underrated it, not necessarily because I undervalued the songs themselves but because I underestimated its mileage and ability to be replayed which it turns out has been great.
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#6: Jaime Wyatt–Felony Blues

Original Rating: 7.5/10
Yeah, I said this rating would be misleading when I reviewed it, and it turns out I was right. It’s hard to grade a seven-song project, and when four songs turn out to be excellent tracks, and the other three are good, it’s hard to question this. It’s short, sure, but there’s no filler like there has been on many albums this year. Jaime Wyatt’s is another debut record, and this is probably the most promising one I’ve heard all year. She’s someone you should definitely keep your eye on, and since February, this has gone from being a strong debut to one of the best albums of 2017.
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#5: Kasey Chambers–Dragonfly

Original Rating: 8/10
Please, stop caring that this is a double album, and do yourself a favor by listening to it. This has been massively underrated, both because Kasey is Australian and because it’s a double album, but it’s one of the most consistent and diverse releases of the year–there’s something here for everyone, from traditional to blues to folk rock to gospel to country pop. Go check it out.
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#4: Jason Eady (self-titled)

Original Rating: 9/10
This is going to be a dark horse for Album of the Year; Jason Eady is the only person who could make a completely stripped-back, acoustic record that could be played without electricity (except for some steel guitar) and have it compete with the best albums of the year based on his songwriting and melodies alone. This record grows on me every time I listen to it. Another somewhat underappreciated album, and definitely the best album to come out of the Texas/Red dirt scene thus far this year.
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#3: Angaleena Presley–Wrangled

Original Rating: 10/10
I know, some of you that know how I felt about this record are falling out of your chairs right now that this is #3. I still love it, and these top three are all excellent. The reason this has slid momentarily to #3 is that I come back to it all the time, but not as much to the entire album as to specific songs. But like I said, these top three are all almost interchangeable, and some of the songwriting here is the best of 2017 so far.
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#2: Colter Wall (self-titled)

Original Rating: 9/10
All right, so yeah, this has passed Angaleena. There are still a couple of boring songs, so I wouldn’t give it a 10–although I might change angallena’s to a 9 or 9.5 if I were reviewing her today–but man, what a timeless album. This pretty much blew me away on the first listen–which is the case with all the top three–and just like Jason’s, it’s very minimal, and all you need is Colter’s throwback voice and his stories and melodies. Excellent record. Another debut, by the way.
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#1: Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives–Way out West

Original Rating: 10/10
Back in March, nothing had blown me away in 2017. I remember talking about the fact that there had been some good albums, but not great ones. I was a little discouraged–and then this came along and blew everything out of the water, and I’m still waiting for something to top it. It’s been a much better year since, and 2017 will be an entertaining year waiting to see if an album can possibly top the musical genius Marty Stuart put into this album and depiction of the West. It’s not a lyrical masterpiece; in fact, none of its songs made yesterday’s list. But that’s what makes it even more special; Marty went into a genre that is lyrically focused and made a western album based purely off the musical styles and mood. It’s, at least for me, a flawless record.
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Honorable Mentions

  • Sam Outlaw–Tenderheart (would have been #11)
  • Kody West–Green (would have been #12, another debut)
  • Aaron Watson–Vaquero (would have been #13)
  • Nikki Lane–Highway Queen
  • Rhiannon Giddens–Freedom Highway
  • Sunny Sweeney–Trophy
  • The Mavericks–Brand New Day
  • Zephaniah Ohora–This Highway (this will probably make future lists, but I need more listens

Albums on the Radar, With Potential to be Reviewed

Being listed here does not mean Brianna or I will review these, it just means we’re aware, and they may be considered, but have not been reviewed yet.

  • The Infamous Stringdusters–Laws of Gravity
  • Lauren Alaina–Road Less Traveled
  • The Secret Sisters–You Don’t Own Me Anymore
  • Ray Scott–Guitar for Sale
  • Glen Campbell–Adios
  • Shannon McNally–Black Irish
  • Joseph Huber–The Suffering Stage
  • Tony Jackson (self-titled)
  • John Baumann–Proving Grounds
  • Jake Worthington–Hell of a Highway
  • Ags Connolly–Nothin’ Unexpected

Album Review: Way Out West by Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives

Rating: 10/10

Recently, a friend of mine, James, was wondering which country song was, in his words, “the most satisfying musically.” He stipulated that lyrics could not be taken into account; he wanted a song that stood out simply for its musicality. He had asked my boyfriend Rob, a fellow fan and student of country music, and Rob and I were stumped for some time. It’s more of a difficult question than it seems because country is a lyric-driven genre. Musical arrangements are generally simple, and it’s hard to find something especially mind-blowing musically within a genre that relies so heavily on storytelling to make its points. The best answer I could come up with at the time was Reba’s “The Night the Lights went out in Georgia.” but I didn’t have access to this album then. Way out West has not earned this rating for its lyrical content, and I think it will be misunderstood and perhaps underappreciated by some for that reason. Country listeners generally look for a story, for honest and clever songwriting, and that part of this record won’t blow you away. but what Marty Stuart has done here musically, capturing a place and time and setting it so perfectly to music, cannot be ignored, and the fact that his vision did not come lyrically makes it even more of a risk within the country format and therefore all the more remarkable.

That’s not to say that the lyrics are a weak point of this album, but you won’t find moments of lyrical brilliance. On a good portion of it, you won’t find lyrics at all. They seem to be placed into songs almost as an afterthought, and only where they belong. Probably the best songwriting comes on the title track, and there are some nice lyrical moments in “air Mail Special,” “Whole Lotta Highway,” and “Please don’t Say Goodbye” as well. As I say, it’s certainly not a weak point, but there is no cohesive story running through this record in the lyrics, and they won’t blow you out of the water on their own.

The story, and the thing that will blow you out of the water, is in the music and mood. The songs and lyrics aren’t all about the American West, but this record is western through and through. Like last year’s Southern Family, this is a portrait of a place and culture. But Southern Family relied on stories to be southern; this record relies on sound and mood to be western. There’s Native American influence and Mexican influence too, arguably making this an even better representation than Southern Family, a record noticeably lacking in African-American influence and thus ignoring a major part of Southern culture. Marty Stuart recognizes that Native American and Mexican influence are as important in painting a portrait of the west as desert ballads. The aforementioned “Please don’t Say Goodbye” has absolutely nothing to do with the West; you won’t even hear references to deserts or California or wide open spaces here, like you do on some of the other tracks that otherwise aren’t really about the West, but there’s still no doubt that this song is western and belongs on the record. It’s in the music and mood, and it allows Marty Stuart to explore other lyrical themes and still produce a cohesive album.

It’s also why there are so many instrumental tracks and why this review isn’t a track-by-track affair. When you drive across west Texas, and there’s emptiness around you for miles, words can’t do justice to the way you feel. The same thing applies to the mountains in Colorado and the Badlands in South Dakota. Words would be inadequate to describe any of this, and yet somehow this record paints pictures of it all. You get the feeling listening that Marty Stuart felt that, in some places, words would just be interrupting, and far be it for me to take an experience like this and break it down into words and tracks. And by the way, credit to The fabulous Superlatives, relied on so heavily to make this album and these pictures come alive.

All I can say about this record is go listen to it. Nothing I can write here will do it justice because it is an album meant to be heard to be fully appreciated. I said on Twitter, and Leon of Country Music Minds quoted me, that you have to be in a very specific, not necessarily sober, mindset to fully get this, and I think that’s especially true after a couple listens. But sober or not, it can blow you away if you listen, and if you’re in the right frame of mind to enjoy it. As I said, I think some will misunderstand it because country is such a lyrically focused genre, but this album tells a story in an understated way, in a way that so few country projects have done, and the risk it takes should be commended. Now, stop reading this and go listen to the best album of 2017 so far.

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