The Grammy-winning singer, songwriter and musician is living country-music history. He’s played alongside the masters, from Cash to Lester Flatt, who discovered him; been a worldwide ambassador for Nashville, Bakersfield and points in between.
But most importantly, Stuart continues to record and release keenly relevant music, records that honor country’s rich legacy while advancing it into the future. Way Out West, his 18thstudio album, hits both of those marks. Produced by Mike Campbell (of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers), the album is a cinematic tour-de-force, an exhilarating musical journey through the California desert that solidifies Stuart as a truly visionary artist. Way Out West transports the listener to the lonely but magical American West.
“It is that spirit world of the West that enchants me,” says Stuart. Specifically, the promised land of California. Growing up in Philadelphia, Mississippi, Stuart was taken by the mystique of the Golden State: the culture, the movies and especially the music. “Everything that came out of California captivated my kid mind in Mississippi,” he says. “It seemed like a fantasy land. Way Out West is a love letter to that.
”As such, the album could only be recorded there, and Stuart, with his longtime backing band the Fabulous Superlatives, decamped for California. They recorded half of the album at Capitol Records and the rest at Campbell’s M.C. Studio, a gritty space with a vibe all its own. Much of the early Heartbreakers music was recorded at Campbell’s and that primal rock & roll energy is palpable throughout Way Out West, reinforced by Capitol’s own rock history: the Hollywood studio birthed iconic records like the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds and the country-rock of Glen Campbell’s Wichita Lineman. Way Out West, with its atmospheric production, evokes those classics, as well as cowboy records like Marty Robbins’ Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs and Cash’s The Fabulous Johnny Cash, one of the first albums Stuart ever owned.
When it comes to transforming country songs into tangible experience, Stuart has a secret weapon: The Fabulous Superlatives. Made up of guitarist Kenny Vaughan, drummer Harry Stinson and new member, bassist Chris Scruggs, the Superlatives are an extension of Stuart himself. “The Superlatives are missionaries, they’re fighting partners. They’re my Buckaroos, my Tennessee Three, my Strangers. They’re my legacy band and have been since Day One,” says Stuart.
As Stuart himself will tell you, he often ventures off the reservation–in a way, his entire career has been “way out west.” While other artists chased popular trends in the name of radio play, he formed complete bodies of work, not unlike the greats he idolized. Way Out West is just the latest embodiment of that creative mission.
But Stuart also made Way Out West for those who come after. As he sees it, there is no greater responsibility in music than to share what you’ve learned.