Marty Stuart | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Few country artists have tastes as catholic as Marty Stuart's--he's been a custodian of southern musical traditions since he was a child. He started playing country gospel music with the Sullivan Family in 1971, when he was 12; a year later he was playing mandolin with bluegrass legend Lester Flatt, and in 1980 he joined Johnny Cash's band. His personal collection of vintage guitars, outfits, and other memorabilia runs to more than 20,000 items, and his own discography includes both contemporary honky-tonk records and broad-minded concept albums. Last year he put out a pair of CDs on Superlatone/Universal South; one's strong and one's dull, but both are earnest and carefully conceived. Badlands is a song cycle with lyrics written from the perspective of the Lakota Sioux; a dark meditation on the tribe's mistreatment by the white man, the album has well-written (and harsh) lyrics, but they're set to boilerplate folk-country tunes that make the record feel like a tedious history lesson. Souls' Chapel is much better: revisiting his gospel past, Stuart embraces the classic sound of the Staple Singers, especially Pops Staples' vibrato-rich guitar licks. He covers a pair of the Staples' classics--including "Move Along Train," which features a cameo from Mavis--but his originals are sturdy as well, emulating the soul-gospel sound with surprising facility and blues feeling. Chicago soul giant Otis Clay is also on this bill, so it seems reasonable to hope that Stuart will emphasize his gospel material. Sun 1/15, 4 and 7:30 PM, Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln, 773-728-6000 or 866-468-3401, $22, $18 seniors and children. All ages.

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