On my way to this show, I reminisced on seeing Marty and His Fabulous Superlatives in a church at SXSW ten years ago, shortly after the release of the stunning Souls’ Chapel. The dual electric guitars of Marty and Pops Staples’ tremolo sound with Kenny Vaughan’s deft picking were compromised by a church that was not built for amplified electronics. Leading up to their show at the Sellersville Theater, Stuart and his band had just released a grand double album, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, which featured plenty of electric guitar along with some quieter gospel fare. On this night, I was looking forward to hearing them in the wonderfully clear sounding Sellersville Theater (featuring a nice set of melodic tunes from emerging Nashville singer/songwriter Sam Lewis).
Well, I didn’t get the electric version this time, as the band, bedecked in light blue speckled rhinestone suits, came out equipped with only acoustic instruments. Stuart and his band are such consummate professionals that they can create just as much energy and maybe even more feeling acoustically, especially on the gospel tunes because of the great harmonies of snare drummer “Handsome” Harry Stinson and bassist Paul Martin. In fact, each Superlative, including monster guitarist “Cousin” Kenny Vaughan, took turns on lead vocals. They played mostly from the new double album while sprinkling in a few requests. Among the highlights was a tender reading of “Old, Old House” after which Stuart remarked to the near capacity audience, “Now that’s real country music.” Stuart’s mandolin and guitar prowess as well as Vaughan’s masterful picking were on display throughout the instrumental tunes and in the fills. This tight, road-tested unit, together for 13 years now, were the epitome of a relaxed group, even starting a couple of tunes over after a misstep.
Following the mostly country first half of the show, Stuart played three tunes solo. The band reached their peak in the gospel second half with Stuart’s Hurricane Katrina-oriented talking intro to “Ghost Train Four-Oh-Ten,” the bluegrass/gospel rave-up “Working on a Building” with exceptional upper register vocals from Stinson, “Satisfied,” and “Angels Rock Me to Sleep.”
Nearly all forms of American roots music from blues to bluegrass to gospel and rock ‘n’ roll had their place in the 75-minute set. Returning for the encore, the ebullient Stuart asked the audience, “What do you want to hear?” Rousing versions of “The Whisky Ain’t Working” and “Hillbilly Rock” followed.
Catch this show. Whether you get the electric or acoustic version, I can assure you it will be as real and as entertaining as any concert you’ll see.
– Jim Hynes