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With Stuart, Womack, tradition rules

Palace Theater, Greensburg, Pa., August 22, 2018

Reviewed by Michael Rampa

This year's British Open tagline was "Tradition Lives Here." This of course refers to the fact that golf is alive and still flourishing since its origin in the United Kingdom. Greensburg, Pa.'s 1,300-seat Palace Theater could have put the same slogan on its marquee for one night to highlight a country music power bill that featured Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives and Lee Ann Womack pairing up for an evening that would please even the staunchest traditionalist.

Stuart's masterful self-taught guitar and mandolin work was stellar all night and was rendered more potent by long-time sideman Kenny Vaughan who dueled with him on several occasions and stole the spotlight more than once with his scorching licks and outrageous attire.

Stuart, clad in his traditional understated full black ensemble and with his signature grey pompadour, has the stage presence of a less menacing Cash. But with fellow bandmates, Harry Stinson (drums) and Paul Martin (bass), the quartet is a menace to any venue's sound ordinance.

For a neophyte, a Stuart show can be a bit musically confusing. His amped up playing style runs the gamut from hillbilly rock and bluegrass to gospel and Americana. Whatever you call it, it was all performed with exceptional instrumental prowess, solid vocals and with nary a slow tempo number in the bunch.

After opening with a one-two punch of "Lesson In Love" and "Tear The Woodpile Down," the band put the pedal to the metal and never so much as tapped the brakes. Only three songs in, they played his biggest hit, 1991's duet with Travis Tritt, "The Whiskey Ain't Workin'."

Choice covers included Merle Haggard's "Mama Tried" and later in the set, Woody Guthrie's "Pretty Boy Floyd," for which Stuart seemed to have special reverence. Somewhat surprisingly, "Hillbilly Rock" was not on the setlist, but it ultimately would have been welcome but superfluous. The band had kicked up a rocking Texas style dust storm for 90 minutes and didn't need to pull out a Top 20 trump card hit to prove itself any further.

Womack still has one of the most gorgeous and distinctively country sounding voices in the genre. Her versatility is impressive, and her understated twang serves the older numbers like the Don Williams cover, "Lord, I Hope This Day Is Good" as well as her own material; be it a contemporary classic like "A Little Past Little Rock" the scorching closer, "Ashes By Now" or the soulful and uplifting "I Hope You Dance." Her bright blond locks, infectious smile and silky tone can't help but draw comparisons to Allison Krauss, and she proved herself to be a vocalist in the same class.