Each month for our ELLN teleconference this year, I am highlighting an album. December’s quick pick from our ELLN agenda is reproduced below. I hope you join us for this afternoon’s call. If you’re an in-house counsel and not part of the ACC or the Employment & Labor Law Network, join us today and see what we’re all about! More details about today’s meeting are available, and you can join ACC and ELLN today)! I hope to (virtually) see you there.
ELLN Chair Doug Hass has long been a music buff (he founded country music site Roughstock.com in 1993) and long done a lot of driving for and to work. That’s given him lots of time to indulge and explore his music interests. To help entertain you on your commutes or at the gym, office, home, or on the go, Doug is offering a year-long series of picks that will showcase some of the best albums you may have never heard, or that deserve another listen. We hope that each monthly choice piques your interest in these albums and artists. These may be titles that you have never heard of, but our hope is that your interest will be piqued and your musical world enriched!
Marty Stuart – The Pilgrim (1999)
The concept album is more closely associated with other genres, from the Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s to Sinatra’s In the Wee Small Hours. Johnny Cash’s Bitter Tears: Ballad of the American Indian was arguably the first country concept album, but I think this month’s selection is the best. The first time I ever saw Marty Stuart perform live was the very last night of the 1996 Double Trouble tour with Travis Tritt in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Over 3 ½ hours and four separate sets (hey, it was the last night!), including a 45-minute acoustic jam with just Marty and Travis, what struck me most was Marty’s incredible musicianship on guitar and mandolin. However, it was his 1999 concept album The Pilgrim, released 20 years ago this past summer that sealed me as a fan for life. The album generally follows a true story from Marty’s hometown in Mississippi about a love triangle. It begins with a man named Norman, characterized as “cross-eyed” in the liner notes, but still able to land the town’s most beautiful woman, Rita. When Norman becomes jealous and protective of Rita, she takes to the arms of “The Pilgrim,” who doesn’t know that Rita is married. When Norman finds out about the relationship, he commits suicide in front of them, and filled with guilt, The Pilgrim takes to traveling. The album follows him to the West Coast before he eventually returns to his true love Rita.
The ambitious album includes prominent contributions from Emmylou Harris, Pam Tillis, George Jones, Ralph Stanley, Earl Scruggs, and Johnny Cash (Marty’s former father-in-law and former boss) on 20 total tracks, all written by Marty. You’ll find a little bit of everything here: bluegrass instrumental jams, rockabilly, honky tonk, straightforward country rockers, a haunting Lord Tennyson recitation by Johnny Cash, and the unique coffee-house number “The Observations of a Crow.” Standouts for me include the aforementioned song, as well as Harlan County, Truckstop, Hobo’s Prayer, Draggin’ Around These Chains of Love, and The Pilgrim (Act III). You will find plenty of earwigs amid the arc of The Pilgrim’s story. 20 years later, it is still Marty Stuart’s finest work, and still an album I can’t stop playing and singing. That’s something that many more commercially successful late 1990s country albums can’t claim to do: stand the test of time. I hope you enjoy (or enjoy rediscovering) it!