THE DEAL: Marty Stuart revives classic country.
THE GOOD: Marty Stuart is the real deal in a country music landscape inhabited by what Unknown Hinson calls "steroid eatin' pretty boys with cowboy hats and shaved chests." This release is a tribute to the '60s glory days of country, with Stuart returning to the scene of his first recording session at 13 with Flatt in RCA's Studio B, where stars including Elvis, Waylon and Eddy Arnold recorded. "Branded" sounds like Merle Haggard backed by Buck Owens and the Buckaroos with Waylon on bass. Stuart, who spent six years in Johnny Cash's band, says it took him awhile to have the heart to sing "Hangman," written with Cash just four days before his death in '03. "Porter Wagoner's Grave" is a spoken-word tribute in the style of Tex Ritter's "Hillbilly Heaven." "Hard Working Man" is about his dad getting fired after 21 years at a factory. "I Run To You" is a duet with wife Connie Smith underscored with weepy pedal steel. Although Stuart's principal instrument is mandolin, he plays guitar on all but one cut, stepping out on lead electric for the instrumental "Hummingbyrd," a tribute to Byrds guitarist Clarence White, played on White's signature guitar.
THE BAD: That more country artists don't adopt this style.
THE VERDICT: This is Stuart's masterpiece. Classic country fans will keep this one close at hand while they pray for its rebirth.