Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives
It’s already been a grand season for the Grand Theatre in Frankfort with an August outing by British blues forefather John Mayall and last week’s jukebox show by E Street Band drummer Max Weinberg.
Now the Grand is gearing up for two major performances within a week of each other that reach out to two different regions of Americana music.
First up is the return of Iris DeMent, an immensely distinctive singer and song stylist for close to three decades.
In the early 1990s, the Arkansas-born DeMent introduced herself to the country at large with a song called “Our Town.” It was a tough call deciding which was more compelling, the heartbreaking temperament of the tune, which was a guided tour of a community sitting in boarded-up decay, or the aching timbre of DeMent’s singing.
From there, DeMent became one of the most acclaimed folk artists of her generation, releasing a succession of albums full of unspoiled, unadorned detail. Sometimes the music turned topical, as with the 1994 protest song “Wasteland of the Free.” At other points, the antique quality of her singing was called upon by her songwriting elders – specifically, John Prine. He enlisted DeMent for multiple collaborations on two albums of duets, 1999’s “In Spite of Ourselves” and 2016’s “For Better or Worse.”
DeMent’s most recent solo recording is 2015’s “The Trackless Woods,” a collection of songs that set the works of early 20th century Russian poet Anna Akhmatova to music.
“I grew up with a lot of hymns and old church music,” DeMent told me in an interview prior to a 2015 performance for the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour. “Some of those hymns have been around for a hundred years, the ones that rose to the surface and lasted. I know that when I read Anna’s poems, I had that same sort of experience that I’ve had singing those timeless hymns.”
Then on Sept. 19, the mighty Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives make their way back not just to Central Kentucky but to the Grand itself. The quartet played there on Valentine’s Day of 2014.
Stuart has long been a country music scholar, as well as one of its most high profile preservationists. Those attributes are being underscored by his contributions to Ken Burns’ “Country Music” film/series, which debuts on PBS this weekend.
Once you have seen him and the Superlatives – guitarist Kenny Vaughan, drummer Harry Stinson and bassist Chris Scruggs – in performance, you sense Stuart’s stylistic reach extends to corners of roots-driven music that can’t be contained by country tradition.
Stuart’s riotous 45-minute set at Rupp Arena in October 2018 ahead of a Kentucky homecoming concert by Chris Stapleton offered ample proof. The country credentials were quickly established through covers of numerous Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard staples, although the show also touched on bluegrass, rockabilly and even surf inspirations.
The Superlatives did their part, too, from Vaughan’s robust guitar drive on “Lesson in Love” to Stinson’s faithful reading of Woody Guthrie’s “Pretty Boy Floyd” to Scruggs’ high tenor pleading on a powerfully vital version of the apropos “Blue Moon of Kentucky.”
“I’ve never encountered a band with the range and depth of these guys,” Stuart told me prior to the Rupp show last fall. “That’s the musical part of it. The other part is we’ve never had an argument. We’re brothers. We love each other. It’s just an incredible band to be part of.”
Now here’s the tricky part of these shows. If you don’t already have tickets, you will need to act quickly. As of this writing, only a handful of balcony seats remained for each performance.
▪ There will be a Duke in Lexington this weekend. John Schneider, who played Bo Duke on “The Dukes of Hazard” between 1979 and 1985, will showcase the country music side of his career with a Sept. 15 concert at The Burl, 375 Thompson Rd. (8 p.m., $20-$125). Call 859-447-8166 or go to theburlky.com.
▪ Backstreet’s back this weekend, as well. Actually, the Backstreet Boys – still with Lexington natives Brian Littrell and Kevin Richardson on board - never went away. Two decades on from what seemed to be its commercial zenith, the group scored another No. 1 album this year with “DNA.” The boy band, whose members are now in their 40s (save for Nick Carter, who will enter that club in January), plays the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville on Sept. 13 (8 p.m.; $29-$175). Tickets at ticketmaster.com.