"Ghost Train: The Studio B Sessions" by Marty Stuart

Marty Stuart
Ghost Train: The Studio B Sessions
Sugar Hill Records
3.5 stars (out of 5)

By Aaron Keith Harris

If you’ve been watching Marty Stuart’s excellent program on RFD-TV, you’ve probably heard many of these songs performed by Stuart and his almost-peerless band The Fabulous Superlatives, namely Kenny Vaughan (guitar), Harry Stinson (drums) and Paul Martin (bass). Ghost Train also includes the revolving efforts of several great steel guitar players.

Their sound on the show, and on this album, is classic 1960s country, with equal parts honky tonk and rockabilly with a little bit of country rock thrown in.

Stuart had a hand in writing all but three songs on this 14-song, 44-minute effort, which includes standout versions of Don Reno’s “Country Boy Rock & Roll,” Warner Mack’s “Bridge Washed Out” and an instrumental of “Crazy Arms.”

Originals like “Branded,” “Drifting Apart,” “A World Without You,” “Ghost Train Four-Oh-Ten,” and “I Run to You” are all good songs performed flawlessly. The slight problem is that they all feel like not-quite-as-good versions of country songs already written and performed by others.

“Little Heartbreaker” breaks out of this mold, as does an ominous co-write with Johnny Cash called “Hangman” and “Hard Working Man,” which namechecks Hag’s “Working Man Blues” and does that troubadour proud.

Though I’ve never been a fan of recitations, “Porter Wagoner’s Grave” is an interesting addition to that subgenre, and “Mississippi Railroad Blues” reminds us that Stuart is every bit as dangerous on a mandolin as he is on a guitar.

It’s tempting to rate such a well-executed traditional country album higher given the current state of things, but one has to measure even such strong gestures by the yardstick of history, not just the last few years.

It would be very interesting to see Stuart, who produced this disc, team up with another producer (not Rick Rubin or T Bone Burnett) who could bring a little better material to the table and get this expert unit to stretch out a bit.