By James Calemine
May 1, 2019. On my third cup of coffee, I put on my favorite album released in 2017–Way Out West. It’s going to be an eventful month. Way Out West seems to capture a mood that sets a tone for the season. Before I set to work at the task at hand I wanted to write these random notes up…
Everyone knows the Mississippi-born Marty Stuart worked as the guitarist for Flatt-N-Scruggs and Johnny Cash in his younger years. Stuart’s gone on to become his own songwriting-guitar picking success. Stuart’s also a good photographer…
Way Out West could be a soundtrack to an old spaghetti western. His band: Kenny Vaughan (guitarist), Harry Stinson (drummer) and Paul Martin (bassist) operate as players of the highest order. Mike Campbell (Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers) played on Way Out West as well as produced this collection at Hollywood’s iconic Capitol Studios.
The recording contains 15 tunes, but it’s length clocks in at 39:25. Way Out West emits a magical spook. It puts these strange changes in perspective–like all great works of art. This psychedelica meets Bakersfield sound transcends time.
Way Out West opens with “Desert Prayer Part 1” that resembles spaceships landing amid a Native American chant for a minute or so before the surf music instrumental “Mojave” kicks in that evokes echoes of Link Wray. “Lost In the Desert” emits the spirit of a Marty Robbins cowboy song.
The title track sounds like a peyote hallucination somewhere out on the edge of the Joshua Tree National Park. In fact, this composition could’ve been written for Gram Parsons. It ranks as a terrific driving song. “El Fantasma Del Toro”, another instrumental, travels to a Mexican courtyard where Spanish guitars are accompanied with an emotive pedal steel.
“Old Mexico” stands as a Stuart gem. It’s testimony to his songwriting talent. Then a distant Native American chant can be heard again, as if it appeared in a fever dream. Mike Campbell provides a real snakebite guitar on the wide-open “Time Don’t Wait” that sounds like a cross between The Byrds and The Heartbreakers.
The instrumental “Quicksand” could be the ‘gunslinger scene’ of a western film, and Campbell’s ominous riff indicates trouble waits close at hand. “Please Don’t Say Goodbye” stands as the romantic jewel on this collection. Again, cinematic qualities inspire the listener with Campbell’s heart-rending twangs on this number.
“Whole Lotta Highway” is a brilliant song about a truck driver as Stuart sings “Seen a whole lotta highway/With a million miles to go.” “Desert Prayer Part 2” creeps back into the sequence like some biblical mist.
“Wait For The Morning” ranks as Way Out West’s centerpiece tune. It carries an emotional, morning-after vibe that reveals changing times loom at hand–but it’s hopeful. It feels like holding an Eagle feather at the crossroads when you hear the lyrics “A new sky is dawning/A change is coming.”
“Reprise” ends Way Out West with a lush sonic quality. It’s like looking in the rearview mirror and seeing a long desert road behind you.