I gave a teaser last week about my pick for this week’s Album Of The Week: Marty Stuart’s acoustic album, Busy Bee Café. It features guest work by some true legends in our industry. Earl Scruggs, Carl Jackson, Jerry Douglas, Alan O’Bryant, Doc andMerle Watson, and even Johnny Cash helped Marty out with this stellar recording. With credits like these, it surprises me that this album has flown under the radar of contemporary listeners for so long.
Marty Stuart began his professional music career when he began playing mandolin with Lester Flatt & The Nashville Grass at age twelve! Following his stint with Flatt, Marty played the guitar with The Man In Black, Mr. Johnny Cash. (It is also interesting to note that the first two albums he owned as a child were by Flatt & Scruggs and Johnny Cash.) These were the only two jobs he had before striking out on his own and, as they say, “the rest is history.” He was key in the “new traditionalist” movement in country music along with artists like Vince Gill and Ricky Skaggs. His roots in traditional acoustic music show through, something he has always been proud to note. A member of the Grand Ole Opry, he brings traditional country and bluegrass music to audiences around the world. Whether on the Opry stage or the set of The Marty Stuart Show on RFD-TV, Marty is a true professional and a great ambassador for our music.
Busy Bee Cafe was released in 1982, and it presents Marty paying homage to some of his traditional heroes. The album kicks off with a real catchy train song. Marty borrowed the tune One More Ride from Cash’s The Fabulous Johnny Cash, so it’s quite fitting that Marty does the number as a duet with Johnny. This upbeat song paints such a great picture of “the clickety-clack of the railroad tracks,” and the picking is incredible. Marty includes another Cash duet later in the album, as they do a rendition of one of Cash’s early original hits, Hey, Porter.
In addition to being a great vocal talent, Stuart’s instrumental prowess is impressive throughout. Most people who reach virtuoso status excel on, one instrument and may be sufficient on others. Very few people are true masters on multiple instruments. Ronnie Stewart is joined on that list by Marty Stuart. Both his mandolin and guitar work are mind-boggling, and he shows off his talent on several instrumental cuts on the album. Two of my favorites are Watson’s Blues and Boogie For Clarence.
Marty’s mandolin sounds magnificent on Bill Monroe’s, Watson’s Blues. You can really hear Big Mon’s influence on Marty’s style of picking on the track. Stuart has said that the mandolin is his favorite instrument to play when he wants to relax and just have fun playing music. Marty’s familiarity with the instrument really shows, and makes the piece sound effortless.
Boogie For Clarence is an original instrumental which he composed as a tribute to one of his guitar icons, Clarence White. It’s a catchy little number that does a great job showcasing Marty’s talent on the guitar. Jerry Douglas’ dobro added to the mix makes this a really fun song. (Marty now plays one of White’s guitars.)
It is fitting that this album features a tune by The Delmore Brothers. Rabon Delmore’s birthday was December 3rd, and he passed away on December 4th. Alton’s birthday is on Christmas Day. The Delmore Brothers were huge stars in the 1940’s and 50’s, and are true unsung heroes of our music. (Be looking for an article on the influence of The Delmore Brothers shortly).
One of the tunes penned by the Delmores is Blue Railroad Train. Most of us are familiar with the classic interpretation which The Tony Rice Unit laid down on Manzanita, and with the more recent Josh Williams/Tony Rice rendition. Many may be unfamiliar with the Marty Stuart/Doc Watson version! Their take on the tune sticks a little more to the original than the Rice editions do, which is refreshing since everyone is so familiar with Tony’s arrangement. Marty and Doc trading licks and lyrics is really special to hear.
Busy Bee Café’s title track is an original by Marty. It deftly describes every classic hole-in-the-wall diner, painting a clear picture of a small town hangout in Mississippi. The track does include a tasteful percussion section, and is the most progressive number on the album. This one will be stuck in your head all day!
The album also includes a pair of Flatt & Scruggs standards. Earl Scruggs and his fancy banjo make an appearance on this cut of Down The Road, and one of the true gems on the record is an all-star version of Get In Line, Brother. The arrangement features only a guitar and some of the best voices in the business. Hearing Johnny Cash on the bass line is something really special. It is great rendition of the song, and definitely worth a listen!
All-in-all, why this record hasn’t been handed to children upon birth is beyond me. It features some of the best in the business doing classic material. What makes the album special, is in addition to highlighting some of his favorite artists and songs, Marty shows his own personal style and how he was planning on progressing the music he loved. And featuring Earl Scruggs, Doc Watson, Jerry Douglas, Johnny Cash and more definitely doesn’t hurt!
Busy Bee Cafe (SH-CD-3726) is still in print from Sugar Hill Records. It is available for download on iTunes and can be purchased at the Classic Country Connection.
Happy Thought of The Day: I was at Half Price Books the other day, a great chain of stores around this part of the country which features books, CD’s, DVD’s, records, and more, at half price or less. One of the highest priced collectable LPs they had on display was The Osborne Brothers’ Up To Date And Down To Earth! Great to see the classics appreciated!