Marty Stuart evolved from a precocious musical whiz kid into a complicated renaissance man. He’s known for his music, colorful personal style, documentary photography, and comprehensive collections of cowboy boots, guitars, and country-western memorabilia. Lately, he has turned his keen curatorial eye toward what he refers to as “Southern Culture.” Souls’ Chapel represents the first musical fruits of this passion.
An ironic series of events led to the its creation. First, Stuart’s ex-father-in-law, Johnny Cash, died, precipitating an alcoholic binge after two years of sobriety. “I got arrested for drinking and driving. I was so embarrassed, I felt worthless. I got out of jail and got on the bus the next morning for a show in Chicago.” At that show, gospel greats Mavis and Yvonne Staples, along with their father, Pop Staples’ presented a guitar to Marty. “It was like being knighted with an instrument of light. It gave me the inspiration to make this record.”
The guitar sound here serves as a musical homage to Pop Staples. Using Pop’s trademark blackface Fender Twin-Reverb tremolo and plate reverb tone, Stuart distills the essence of what he calls “Delta Gospel” – a combination of swamp guitar, Fender bass, Hammond organ, minimally configured trap drums, and complex three and four-part harmonies create an organic musical entity that harkens back to one of the South’s earliest popular musical forms. The songs are a mixture of standards, including Pop’s “Somebody Saved Me,” A.J. Sims’ “The Unseen Hand,” and Stuart originals created specifically for Souls’ Chapel. Two songs, “Come Into The House of the Lord” and “It’s Time to Go,” stand out as especially powerful.
Other musicians include Kenny Vaughan on electric guitar, Chad Cromwell on drums, Barry Beckett on Hammond B-3, Glen Worf and Michael Rhodes on bass, Harry Stinson, Brian Glenn, and Mavis Staples on vocals. In addition to playing electric guitar and singing most of the lead vocals, Stuart produced the recording. Engineered and mixed by Chuck Turner, Souls’ Chapel was mastered by Jim DeMain at Yes Master. I was bowled over by the recording’s expansive soundstage and sumptuous harmonic balance. Its overall sound reminds me of the best analog recordings from RCA’s old Studio B in Nashville, where Chet Atkins’ records were made.
This first CD on Stuart’s Superlatone Records imprint sets a high standard. Personally, I can’t wait for his next secular record, but in the meantime Souls’ Chapel will get heavy play.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Oct. ’05 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.