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Music Review: Marty Stuart’s new album 'Altitude' is vibrant country inspired by the Byrds

This image released by Snakefarm shows "Altitude" by Marty Stuart. (Snakefarm via AP)

“Altitude,” Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives (Snakefarm)

The geekiest fan would be hard-pressed to match Marty Stuart’s vast memorabilia collection, which will be displayed as part of his ambitious country music complex being built in his hometown of Philadelphia, Mississippi.

But Stuart wants to ensure the genre he loves isn’t a mere museum piece. No country artist is better at bringing the past into the present than the Country Music Hall of Famer, who approaches the music with passion, earned authenticity and enormous chops.

“Altitude,” his first album in more than five years, was inspired by the Byrds’ groundbreaking cosmic country of the late 1960s. As such, it sounds like a throwback, but also entirely fresh. The set is an intoxicating mix of guitar reverb and tremolo, bent notes, chiming 12-string and keening harmonies in support of Stuart, whose robust tenor is filled with wit and wisdom.

The 13 original tunes are as vibrant as the colorful suits worn by Stuart’s band, the Fabulous Superlatives, whose amusingly hyperbolic name is somehow an understatement. Guitarist Kenny Vaughan, drummer Harry Stinson and bassist Chris Scruggs match Stuart’s guitar virtuosity, with thrilling results.

They set the tone with “Lost Byrd Space Train (Scene 1),” a two-minute instrumental opener built on twin guitars, and the celebratory boogie of “Country Star.” “Sitting Alone” echoes not only the Byrds but the Beatles, while “Vegas” summons the ghosts of Gram Parsons and Clarence White.

Stuart occasionally backs off the throttle. He plays sitar and sings about social distancing on the trippy ballad “Space,” while “The Sun Is Quietly Sleeping” pairs twang with a handsome string-section arrangement.

A psychedelic guitar solo elevates the scorcher “Time to Dance,” and then comes a quiet spiritual that begins with the lament, “Woke up hurting,” before angelic harmonies supply relief. As a country classicist, Stuart finds comfort in Sunday morning as the redeeming encore to Saturday night.

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