Turn on Country Music Television and you'll find re-runs of "The Dukes of Hazzard" and "Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader."
You may get lucky and find some actual "country music" videos. Wait until 2 or 3 a.m., and you might come across a genuine country music artist by the name of Marty Stuart, selling classic country CD collections.
If anyone is qualified to sell such a product, it's Marty Stuart. Now 52, Stuart has had a storied career. A fixation with country led him to teach himself guitar and mandolin as a child. At 13, Stuart earned a place in the band of bluegrass legend Lester Flatt. After the gig was up, he went on to play with other renowned figures like Doc Watson and Vassar Clements and spent five years with Johnny Cash.
Breaking out as a solo artist in the mid 1980s, Stuart achieved a few chart successes with his eclectic country performances. Although critical acclaim has remained with him, commercial triumphs have been sparse in the last 15 years. Regardless, Marty Stuart would probably tell you it's not his prerogative to be at the top of the charts.
Stuart released his sixteenth studio album, "Ghost Train: The Studio B Sessions," in the late summer of 2010. Again, sales weren't exceptional, but the release landed on many year-end best-of lists and was nominated for two Grammy Awards.
Of the country albums released last year, "Ghost Train" is most certainly the most traditional and true to the original form of the music. It was recorded in the historic RCA Studio B in Nashville, Tenn., where Elvis Presley, Ernest Tubb and Hank Snow once put their hits on tape. With "Ghost Train," Stuart shows he is worthy enough to stand in such footprints.
Ringing steel guitar, impassioned mandolin and guitar picking and country-boy delivery are all over "Ghost Train." It has a classic-country feel that will take the listener back half a century or more. Stuart is what some call a neo-traditionalist: He performs the country more closely associated with years past
Though the dark spots of "Ghost Train" are prominent, radiance is never far away. Openers "Branded" and "Country Boy Rock & Roll" send "Ghost Train" down the tracks with rocking speed. The title song, "Ghost Train Four-Oh-Ten," is a 12-bar blues song, featuring a brilliant steel guitar emulating a train horn. The three instrumentals sprinkled through the album are also upbeat and do a fantastic job of showcasing Stuart's musical talent.
When the stop at somberness arrives, it does not come without reason. Stuart's long-time friend and country singer, Porter Wagoner, passed away in 2007, shortly after Stuart produced his final album. Stuart resorted to writing about his friend to soften the blow of the loss and the result is "Porter Wagoner's Grave." Part spoken-word, the song describes a posthumous visit from Wagoner, who delivers some wisdom to his friend.
Another bleak song, "Hangman," is the stirring description of the life of an executioner. It is especially notable because it is the last song to which Johnny Cash put a pen. Stuart co-wrote the song with Cash four days before his death in 2003.
"Ghost Train" wouldn't be a true country album without a tear-in-your-beer song, like "Drifting Apart," about a breaking relationship. Stuart's real-life relationship with singer Connie Smith is anything but, as heard in the two songs they wrote together for the album, "A World Without You" and "I Run To You," the latter of which is a passionate duet.
"Ghost Train: The Studio B Sessions" continues Marty Stuart's veracious ode to real country music. Unlike "New Country" artists, Stuart is less about name-checking the legends of the field and more about honoring them by keeping them alive in his lyricism and musical delivery.
Marty Stuart is online at http://www.martystuart.net.