Diving into a 20th Anniversary Super Deluxe reissue of an album I've never listened to before by an artist I've sadly not paid attention to is daunting... Especially when the music comes housed in a beautiful hardcover, nearly 200-page coffee table book detailing the story of said album you completely missed back in the day which was embraced by those in the know (including Jimmy Page!) and critics, despite its relative commercial failure.
My ignorance on this I blame on multiple causation. It is partly due to the nature of target marketing, where specific genres of music get pushed to very specific audiences.
So while much of the music on Marty Stuart's The Pilgrim could easily play side by side tracks by no less than Bruce Springsteen (think Seeger Sessions, Nebraska, Western Stars, Ghost of Tom Joad, etc), Bob Dylan and even The Rolling Stones and Flamin' Groovies, the powers that be didn't broaden their perspective on it (and the album stalled due to its limited marketing).
I'll take some responsibility for missing this album as fell squarely outside of my musical vision at the time given I was not listening to country radio at all and I suspect it didn't really get played on modern rock or even classic rock radio (which it should have!). Add in that I had a lot going on in 1999 when this came out (including the recording and release of music by my own band) it was a perfect time to miss some important releases. Mea culpa.
The Pilgrim is clearly a great album, no doubt an important record for Marty Stuart and an important release which wipes away the line in the sand of musical genre and production aesthetics of time and place.
You won't hear gated snare drums or obvious synthesizers of the day on this album. You will however hear lots of rich acoustic Guitars and Mandolins sparkling alongside twangin' Fender Telecaster electrics.
In its own way, this album reminds me at times of seminal releases by The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, such as their legendary multi-disc set Will The Circle Be Unbroken with its many guest shots by legends of Bluegrass and Country music who were at the time getting up in years; I'm also fan of their precursor smash hit Uncle Charlie & His Dog Teddy, which again breaks down the borders between rock and country.
On The Pilgrim you will hear guest performances from no less than Earl Scruggs, Ralph Stanley, George Jones, Johnny Cash and Emmylou Harris.
A song-cycle, concept album in the best possible way, The Pilgrim takes you on a journey that must be listened to end-to-end to fully appreciate. There are haunting Orchestral interludes slamming head to head with Bluegrass breakdowns. Stones-y rock riffs collide with country production sensibilities on tracks like "Draggin' Around These Chains Of Love."
Without spoiling the story line and its larger underlying meaning for the artist, The Pilgrim tells the story of the central character on his journey of discovery, love and life reinvention.
This new deluxe edition of The Pilgrim -- subtitled A Wall To Wall Odyssey -- is a brand new reinvention remix remaster of the original album. It sounds quite terrific especially for recordings that were made in the in the peak of the digital era. Apparently it was recorded on Otari's RADAR hard disc recording system and meticulously (perhaps even arduously, reading between the lines of the liner notes) transferred into modern multitrack workstations and remixed anew.
The CD sounds real nice which may have something to do with not only the care and handling that went into making this reissue but also the source material (if the wiki is accurate, it was probably recorded at 48 kHz, 24-bits).
There is a new vinyl version of the album out which I hope to get my hands on at some point for a follow-on review.
If you are already a fan of Marty Stuart's music or a newbie like me, getting this hardcover book edition of The Pilgrim makes a lot of sense. You really need to read his backstory which eloquently documents that crossroads point of an artist putting aside certain levels of (perhaps formulaic) success to pursue a dream of making a musical statement to transcend time and place.
While it is be easy to just listen to this album on streaming services such as Tidal (click here) and Qobuz (click here), you really need to get this book to see these amazing pictures of Marty in the studio with no less than Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash. He was something of a child prodigy and you'll learn how he came to be part of no less than Lester Flatt's and then later Johnny Cash's band at an early age (he's a masterful Guitar and Mandolin player!). This edition of The Pilgrim is very reasonably priced on Amazon so just click on the title anywhere in this review to order it.
In The Pilgrim: A Wall To Wall Odyssey you will learn about how Carl Perkins gave Marty his guitar at the end of a recording session. You will see fantastic pictures of the instruments that went into the making of this recording including guitars once owned by no less than Clarence White of The Byrds, Mick Ronson and even Hank Williams (pictured above)!
I don't know about you but I have a lot of catching up to do on Marty Stuart's music and The Pilgrim: A Wall To Wall Odyssey seems like the best place to have jumped in to discover this fine artist's music.
I'm all in...