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Stuart gets uncivilized

The Lakeland Cente, Lakeland, Fla., January 23, 2014

Reviewed by Andrew Greenhalgh

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The term "national treasure" gets bandied about quite a bit, especially in country music circles and as a result, has lost some of its luster. Yet, when speaking of Marty Stuart and the Fabulous Superlatives, that term is never more appropriate as the packed audience found out.

With little fanfare, Stuart and company paraded onto center stage, dressed in their familiar duds (Stuart all in black, the Superlatives in neon blue Nudie suits), and warned the crowd, "I hope you didn't come here tonight for a civilized concert. But, if you're here for a high-octane hillbilly band, you're in the right place."

Thus began a night of great country music.

Stuart and his Superlatives rocked the house throughout the night, holding tight to the Harlan Howard quote of offering up "Three chords and the truth." Of course, three chords in the hands of these musicians isn't quite like giving them to any other. That's especially true when "Cousin" Kenny Vaughan is in the house, and he nearly stole the show throughout the evening, his lead guitar solos shining through each and every time with flair and personality while the artist stepped to the mic and delivered a few of his own signature hits like Country Music Got A Hold On Me and Don't Leave Home Without Jesus. Of course, the other Superlatives got in on the act as well, "Apostle" Paul Martin and "Handsome" Harry Stinton getting their due as well.

But there's something special about Stuart, and he showed why when about halfway through the show as the Superlatives headed to the wings for a bit, Stuart delighted the crowd all by himself, recounting a story of Johnny Cash and his reaction to his death, inspiring him to write the song Dark Bird with solo guitar, simply captivating the audience. That wonderment continued as Stuart took up his mandolin and delivered a stunning solo take on the classic Orange Blossom Special.

When the band turned to its gospel songbook, things really caught fire. First up was a rousing rendition of Working On a Building, so rousing in fact that Martin popped the bridge off of his upright bass yet they didn't lose a beat, switching out for the electric while smiling the whole time. Just a Little Talk With Jesus was next, but it was the near a capella of The Unseen Hand that brought goose bumps to the arms, the three vocalist's harmonies smooth and soulful, anchored by Stinton's high lonesome tones.

And what was perhaps most impressive on this night of song was the warm feeling that resonated from the stage outwards. While intuitively you know that these are world-class artists who have rehearsed and planned for much of what occurs, there's still that deep seated true country element that invites you to "C'mon in and sit a spell." On that chilly Florida night, that's just what Marty Stuart and the Fabulous Superlatives did and it left the crowd heading back into the night with a smile on their face and Hillbilly Rock humming in their hearts.