The Merle, Marty & Willie Party

A different kind of bro-country

The hottest movement in country music has been dubbed bro-country, a testosterone-fueled brand of pop mostly built on trucks, girls in tight shorts, and drinking. Last night’s show at the Moody Theater starred a different brotherhood and brand of country music that’s both traditional and feisty. An appearance by Willie Nelson made it even more special.

Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives opened up on a blast of Waylon Jennings, breaking out “Stop the World and Let Me Off” with rockabilly gusto.

“If you came to see a high-octane hillbilly band, you’re in the right place,” exclaimed Stuart.

His new 2-CD set, Saturday Night/Sunday Morning, might be the best country album of 2014, but he didn’t focus on it. Instead, he reached back to hits from the Nineties, “Tempted” and “The Whiskey Ain’t Workin’,” as well as an impossibly complex solo turn on mandolin for “Orange Blossom Special,” and a soul-filled rendition of Bill Monroe’s “I’m Blue I’m Lonesome.”

The Fabulous Superlatives – guitarist Kenny Vaughan, drummer Harry Stinson, bassist Paul Martin – demonstrated inspired musicianship throughout. There isn’t a more versatile roots/country band working today. The set ended with a cappella gospel in “Angels Rock Me to Sleep” that exhibited the quartet’s exceptional harmonies as well.

Marty Stuart & Kenny Vaughan (left) (Photo by John Anderson)

Hats off from the Hag: Merle Haggard at the Moody Theater, 11.11.14 (Photo by John Anderson)

The Hag’s portion of the program got off to an inauspicious start with vocalist Doug Colosio fronting the Strangers on a couple of Buck Owens tunes that were almost universally ignored. Introduced by Stuart as “the poet of the common man,” Haggard, 77, immediately delighted the sold-out Moody by going to hitsville on “Big City,” “Twinkle Twinkle Lucky Star,” “Silver Wings,” and “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink” seemingly without taking a breath. His vocals have lost some resiliency and power, yet the timbre is still there, and the band, with Austin’s Floyd Domino on piano, proved to be flexible and energetic.

A tribute to his friend Johnny Cash in the form of a spunky “Folsom Prison Blues” was followed by an appearance from Willie Nelson for a stark rendition of Blaze Foley’s “If I Could Only Fly.” Nelson stuck around for the rest of the set, trading vocals and guitar solos on “Working Man’s Blues,” “Milk Cow Blues,” and more, including a jazzy run through of “Crazy,” on which Domino’s piano was spotlighted. Nelson’s surely sung the tune 1,000 times, yet he always manages to dig down deep as if it’s still fresh and last night was still a hair-raising experience.

Haggard broke out his fiddle for the sugary “Old Fashioned Love” and Stuart joined in on guitar for the set-ending “Working in Tennessee” and “Okie From Muskogee.” In all, Tuesday evening brought out a good-natured night of old friends sharing music from the heart. The kind of country music that’s seemingly out of fashion yet most assuredly will never fade away.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

Merle Haggard, Marty Stuart, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Bill Monroe, Buck Owens, Johnny Cash, Kenny Vaughan, Floyd Domino

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