Marty Stuart is the perfect example of what artists should be doing when they reach their post-radio years – experimenting, and doing whatever the hell they want to. He’s not chasing any trends or trying to stay relevant, he’s just being Marty Stuart, and that’s one of the most outlaw things you can do today (to sort of steal one of his expressions even if it’s in the wrong context).
For his latest album, Way Out West, Marty had a vision in his mind, one of….well….the West.
“If you go and sit by yourself in the middle of the Mojave Desert at sundown and you’re still the same person the next morning when the sun comes up, I’d be greatly surprised,” Stuart says. “It is that spirit world of the West that enchants me. Everything that came out of California captivated my kid mind in Mississippi.”
Heck, he even went out west to record this, more specifically at Capital Studios in Los Angeles as well as Mike Campbell’s M.C. Studio.
Talking about this album is tricky, almost as tricky as Josh Turner’s earlier this week. I’ve given it about ten listens at this point (my weekend was clear), and there’s still just a lot to grasp here. Is it good? Oh God, yes. Absolutely! Is it great? Well, here’s the thing, it is, and here’s where talking about this album gets tricky. This is by far one of the most interesting albums I’ve heard not just this year, but in my entire lifetime. I was chatting with my friend Megan (of Country Exclusive) over on Twitter about this album, and she said it feels like the type of album you need to be in exactly the right type of mood to fully appreciate, not necessarily sober either. Honestly, I couldn’t agree more. This album is something I’ve experienced many places, and while I again, do like it a lot, I feel like it’s too good for me, as if I’m doing this album a disservice by not really getting it. It’s frustrating to explain.
Way Out West isn’t necessarily a concept album per se, but many of these tracks are connected to a certain mood, as if you’re listening to this album in a desert out West going through some life changing experience. You thought Metamodern was trippy? Get ready for this.
And here’s another frustration, because, there are certain moments when I’m “reviewing” things where I feel like I’m being overly harsh, and that maybe I need to step back and really think about what I’m saying before I say it. In other words, I have a nitpick. I think it’s always important to reiterate that again, these are just my feelings, and while they may be harsh, again, only what I think.
So what the hell am I trying to say? Well, for as creative and expansive as this album is, I kind of wish it had pushed a little further, and it’s because it already has the foundation to do so. Way Out West relies more on mood to drive its overarching point across, and while that’s cool, I kind of wish it was reflected more in the lyrical content as well. It is in the first few tracks like the Johnny Cash recorded “Lost On The Desert”, the title track, and “Old Mexico”, but the whole theme of the desert just seems to drift off after that, again, strictly in terms of the lyricism. With that said, I kind of wish it did push more for that concept type of atmosphere, with either an overarching story to drive its point across (sort of like Slackeye Slim’s 2011 El Santo Grial). Again, it doesn’t make the album bad, it just is something that admittedly bothered me. I hate writing that, but again, strictly my thoughts.
I’ll also add that many of the instrumentals just aren’t needed on this record. In fact, some of the coolest instrumental moments on this album happen within the lyrical tracks like the psychedelic, acid trip induced title track, or the dusty “Please Don’t Say Goodbye” with the absolutely gorgeous string section and very 70’s feel to it (not to mention the harmonies are excellent). I do really like some though – “Torpedo” is an absolute jam if there ever was one, and “Desert Prayer Part 1” is a nice way to kick off the record with its ominous feel.
So now that I’m done complaining, what did I like?
Well actually, quite a lot. Again, some of these songs have little to do with any western feel to the album, but they’re still great songs in their own right. “Whole Lotta Highway” is a nice homage to Marty’s career not only up to that point, but also to where he’s heading next. Stay hungry, stay foolish Marty. “Time Don’t Wait” is another fun jam that has the message of….well, exactly what it says, time not waiting for anyone. If you want to talk in terms of songs that do fit the theme, again, the title track is a trip not just instrumentally, but lyrically as well.
Again, this is also a record opting for mood more than a story, and in terms of the mood, this is what I mean when I say it’s too good for me. This is an album stemming from an experience of Marty’s, and I’m not sure if I’m not getting it fully. I like what I hear, but I don’t know what it means.
But overall, this is definitely an album that’s a hell of a ride, and something you have to hear for yourself. I think it’s great, but at the same time it could have been excellent. Don’t take my word for it though. I’m an ignorant dolt who probably shouldn’t even be talking about music in the first place. But I am. And my verdict on this album is…
(8/10) (Of all the times I’ve ever not known what the hell to “grade” something, this would be it. Therefore, I reserve the right to change this at some point down the road.)
Update (5/22/17) – After some heavy re-listening to this project, I would definitely bump this up to a light 9/10 now. It may not reach the concepts I had hoped for lyrically, but the instrumentation and production is the main focus anyway, and it’s still great, so before I was probably just being too much of a hardass.