Book Review: Marty Stuart’s The Pilgrim: A Wall-to-Wall Odyssey

In 1999 Marty Stuart released an album titled The Pilgrim. The album didn’t sell so well in the changing times as mega-hits were still closing out the decade in country music. 

“The Pilgrim: A Wall-to-Wall Odyssey” is a companion coffee table book released for the album’s 20th anniversary. The book (which includes the album on CD) discusses the progress Marty went through to create the album and how it profoundly affected all aspects of his recording career. From searching for who “the pilgrim” is to recording the songs in the studio, readers are taken in for the entire journey from point A to point B. 

It is interesting to see how a simple idea required Marty to search for the whole story and look for inspiration to properly tell that story lyrically, musically and even visually. The book contains stories of individuals that were apart of the journey, from the photographer, the sound guy and more, however, the bulk of the story is graciously told by Marty Stuart himself. 

Aside from being an easy read and structured simply and smoothly, I found it interesting to hear the artist’s struggle to identify what the story of this concept album would be, but also Marty explains how he went to his mentors and people he admired to bring everything together. One of his great friends and mentors that also appears on the album is Johnny Cash. Along the way the reader gets an inside view of their relationship and the wisdom Marty took from Johnny. 

I should note that I am not familiar with Marty Stuart’s music at all and I have never heard any of the material on The Pilgrim prior to purchasing and reading this book. I bought it on a whim at Ernest Tubb’s Record Store in downtown Nashville. Marty had an in-store book signing a few days prior and evidently signed extra copies for the store to tell. I love to read books that detail the album making process from the artist’s point of view and this particular book did not disappoint. I even found myself inspired by reading it. Inspired o do WHAT exactly I’m not sure but I certainly felt the urge to search for something profoundly meaningful just to create. The making of this album caused Marty to question his record-making process and desire to be more in touch with traditional country music, without pursuing a hit song or album. He decided from that point to keep his recording career more grounded. 

I have the utmost respect for Marty Stuart for trying to preserve and honor real, traditional country music. His interview segments in Ken Burns’ documentary Country Music caught my attention because he obviously has a storied musical career. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and honestly did not care one way or the other if I ended up liking any of the music on the album! For me, the take-away from the book is to keep looking for inspiration, do what you love and don’t compromise your artistic expression. I would love to go on an almost spiritual odyssey like Marty did just for the sake of creating, however, my question would be how does someone who is not an artist, who works a 9-5 job with not much money or time accomplish this? Since I finished reading this book I have been thinking about this and trying to find my own way. I will most likely keep this book at hand and re-read it for help sometime in the future. This my type of “self-help” book!

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