Marty Wendell Chats about New record “Risky Business”

CAMBRIDGE — Marty Wendell, following on the success of his last record, Rock & Roll Days – which was considered for a Grammy nomination for Best Americana Album – is set to release the upcoming record, Risky Business, on October 9th. Celebrating a long and storied career, Marty has truly crafted an amazing piece of art. The first Nashville record he has created in 57 years, Risky Business features an incredible sense of songcraft, and production. Co-produced by Chris Scruggs (grandson of the legendary Earl Scruggs, and member of Marty Stuart’s band), as well as featuring his granddaughter, Lindsey Scruggs on “Cutting Room Floor” and “Like a Ghost,” tracks three and nine, respectively, a sense of Nashville royalty pervades this record. Chock-full of Americana and Country Western flavors, and with a booming voice reminiscent of the late, great, Johnny Cash, there’s a lot to be received from this record. Fans of the genre can take part in the album release celebration by attending the event happening on October 9th, at the Argyle Brewing Company in Cambridge, NY, at 7:00 pm.

We, at Nippertown, were excited at the chance to catch the album prior to its release. Please continue reading as we go through some of this listener’s particular highlights from the record, as well as a brief chat with the man, Marty Wendell, himself!

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THE REVIEW

With a rollicking guitar intro in the opening and title track, “Risky Business,” (featuring Jerry Fox on guest vocals), one thing was clear: this record takes no time getting started. Containing songwriting that indicated a strong and steady practice in the craft, each song was delivered in an amazingly efficient way that felt neither too short, nor long. Other songs, such as “Grandpa,” (track two, featuring Marty’s granddaughter, Emily Quinn on guest vocals) which tackled the hard topic of familial shortcomings, were done in such a way that demonstrated Marty’s ease with painful honesty.

Though there were some cliched phrases occasionally found in the record, this was largely combatted by the strong sense of unique imagery – at least to this listener – in certain situations. For example, in track three, “Cutting Room Floor,” (featuring Lindsey Scruggs on guest vocals) Marty discussed the life of an ex after the relationship, and how a movie of them would invariably be missing anything to do with their relationship. A realization from both sides of the partnership, this song dealt with the fact that although our loved ones can be the center of our damned universe during the course of said relationship, this truth vanishes upon splitting, and we have to realize they’ll leave our mutual memories on the cutting room floor of their minds.

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Much of this album felt largely autobiographical, especially the tunes, “Chasin’ a Dream,” “The Lovelight,” and “The Writing on the Wall,” tracks four, five, and six, respectively. That being said, there were some sonic textures, such as the twelve-string guitars in “Chasin’ a Dream,” that at times gave the record a brief roots-rock feel to it; a nice change of pace. Judy Rodman delivers a great guest vocal on “The Lovelight.” As an aside, local bluegrass favorite, Melody Guarino, can be heard as a featured vocalist on “The Writing on the Wall.” With “All That’s Left,” (track seven, featuring Tim Brick on guest vocals) listeners get a chance to hear some higher registered notes that really complement the overall rustic baritone for which Marty is known. “Second Chances,” (track eight, featuring Linda McKenzie), contains the curious oxymoronic line, “Every day there’s always second chances.”

Perhaps my favorite track on the whole album, “Like a Ghost” (track nine, featuring Lindsey Scruggs on guest vocals) was incredibly unexpected to this listener. Bolstered by a Bolero groove right from its start, this song changed up the pace of the record that was for the most part fairly laidback and straightforward. The closing track, “Growing Old,” involved a narrator reminiscing on how the industry – for which he’s been a part of for six decades – used to be. With a sense of change that was promised and never came, the song tackled the perceived feelings and worries of irrelevance in a world that seems to make less and less sense to the narrator. It felt like a great concluding statement for this particular album.

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From left-to-right: Kenny Vaughan, Marty Stuart, Marty Wendell, Chris Scruggs, Harry Stinson, and Sean Wendell.

There’s a lot to be said from such an album, whose every track includes at least one guest musician. In terms of guest spots, I thought it awesome that Sean Wendell, Marty’s son, was another huge part of this record, serving as co-producer along with guesting on some of the songs: “Chasin’ a Dream,” and “Growing Old.” On the former track, Sean’s wife Hillary also makes an appearance. This album was one hell of a team-effort; a fact which was more and more obvious as the songs continued on. Continue reading below to catch our discussion.

THE INTERVIEW

Lucas Garrett: Marty, congratulations on making yet another record! There’s a huge cast and crew involved with this record! Would you want to go into a bit of who’s on the album, as well as how the album came to be?

Thanks so much, I appreciate it.  In 2018, Marty Stuart introduced me to Chris Scruggs who is one of the members of his Fabulous Superlatives and is the grandson of the legendary Earl Scruggs. While he was off the road like most of us in 2020 he offered to work on a project with me. I had of vision of making a country album that would draw deeply from country music tradition while at the same time have relevance today.  As well as working with Chris, several guest artists became a part of the album.  They include Judy Rodman who had several hits; a Number One song “Until I Met You” and has worked with artists ranging from Dolly Parton to Ray Charles.  My friend Jerry Fox is there, who also had several hits with his group Bandana and Lindsey Scruggs, a very talented Nashville singer and granddaughter of Earl Scruggs.  Then, there is Linda McKenzie, a Nashville singer/songwriter, Tim Brick, a true Americana artist, and Melody Guarino of The Bluebillies who often work shows with me.  Then, there are my
family members, my granddaughter, Emily Quinn; my daughter-in-law, Hillary Wendell, and my son, Sean Wendell, who is also the co-producer of the album.

LG: There’s so much talent all over this record, it must have felt like a great culmination of things to be able to work with them. What was that process like?

Yes, it was definitely a great experience to work with so many talented artists.  I have always enjoyed albums by artists who include other artists on an album as it help to create a unique soundscape. The process was to match the voices to the songs.  As I know well these artists and their work, it really wasn’t too difficult.

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Marty Wendell

LG: How does this album and its upcoming release feel to you as an artist when compared to your past records?

It is quite exciting for me as this is my first Nashville-produced album.  Yet our goal was to make sure it did not sound like a lot of what comes out of Nashville these days. I always try hard to make each album better than the last.  My son, Sean Wendell, has been involved in producing all of my albums since 2000 and we always try to make each album different from other records that we have done.  In 2007, I signed with Simply Twenty One Records and they have given us the freedom to record our music as we see fit.

LG: What are your plans going forward in terms of promoting and getting this album into listeners’ ears?

By the end of this month, the album should be available on all the digital platforms and the CDs available from Amazon as well as at all of our concerts.  WEXT has already begun to play the title cut, Risky Business, and Chris Wienk will feature an interview with several of the tracks on the album.  We will also be doing an interview with Kevin Richards on WKLI and Wanda Fischer will feature songs from the album on WAMC.  Simply Twenty One will get it out to the national scene.  Our last album became a contender for “Best Americana Album” in the 2020 Grammy Awards and we can only hope Risky Business can garner similar recognition.

LG: Is there anything we’ve missed that you’d like to elaborate on?

I certainly appreciate your interest in my music and hope people will check it out. This month, I will be an inductee into the Eddies Hall of Fame so at this latter period of my music career many good things continue to be happening.  We are already booking dates for our 2022 tour season.  As I approach my 58th year as an artist I am very grateful that I can still do what I love.  Thank you, Lucas, and I hope you have continued success with your music!

LG: Well, thank you, and thanks again for your time! Good luck with your new record!

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