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Mark Stuart and the Bastard Sons
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Life’s road is filled with twists and turns. For some it’s a safe and predictable path, for others it’s a wide expanse across the highways and byways of many lands. For seekers like veteran singer-songwriter Mark Stuart it’s an adventure, propelled by the thought of what lies just beyond the next bend.

And so, after three albums, and thousands of gigs fronting the critically acclaimed alt-country group Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash, that Rolling Stone called, “…pure Americana heart and soul,” Stuart is driving on, under a new name: Mark Stuart and the Bastard Sons, and from his current hometown of Austin, Texas. It’s a new chapter… a new beginning… a bend in the road.

“I’ve grown as a person and as a songwriter and that name doesn’t represent who I am in my life or where I am with my music right now. Stuart explained of the name change. “I don’t want to live in the shadow of the Man in Black anymore, it was time to say ‘Hey, can I be me now?’”

That Stuart has come in to his own as an expressive and confident songwriter, is clearly evident on his new album Bend In The Road, on his own Texacali Records, with distribution by Nashville-based Dualtone Music Group.

Bend In the Road is very much a vehicle of change. So it feels natural and appropriate, if not a little surprising, that Stuart kicks off the disc with a cover of Billy Joe Shaver’s “I’m Just An Old Chunk of Coal,” on which Stuart sings with a combined sense of wisdom and optimism “I’m just an old chunk of coal/I’m going to be a diamond someday.” The song resonated with Stuart when he moved to Texas and best describes his mindset amidst personal and professional changes.

“It became my mission statement, my mantra in starting afresh in Austin,” he said. “I listened to it over and over.”

The record kicks into gear with the bluegrass-tinged “Restless, Ramblin’ Man,” an ode to wanderlust, fueled by driving mandolin and banjo. Stuart shifts into overdrive on back-to-back rockers “Love Comes A Callin’” and “Power of a Woman.” The latter, with its Stones-like country-blues shuffle, a testament to the power of a woman’s love, is a stark contrast to “Gone Like A Raven,” a cautionary tale of love's hard lessons learned.

While Bend In the Road is predominantly an upbeat outing, an uplifting musical journey for these difficult times, it is not without its quieter, more reflective moments. “Lonestar, Lovestruck Blues,” and the album’s final track “Carolina,” reveal a man at the crossroads, torn between the lure of the road and the allure of life’s darker side, and the constancy of home.

“The road and the mystique of the road is a big part of who I am,” Stuart said. “When I’m not on it I’m thinking of it. I’ve always been enamored by that lifestyle of finding yourself and chasing after your dreams. But when you’re home you have to give more of yourself. You have to balance the longing of the highway with the longing of your love.”

Throughout Bend In the Road, one gets the sense that Stuart is indeed busy transforming that old chunk of coal into something “pure-blue perfect.” Each song its own chapter in the story, and pushing him farther along.

Save for the lone cover, Stuart penned every track, and produced the CD with his longtime production partner and engineer Alan Mirikitani in Los Angeles. The pair worked on previous records for the Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash and with other artists. Together, they demonstrate an instinctive ability to coalesce a collection of songs into a flowing, sonically spacious musical tapestry underscored by the judicious use of keyboards, accordion, dobro, fiddle, pedal steel, banjo and mandolin, in addition to guitars, bass and drums.

To further emphasize the heartfelt message of each song, Stuart recruited some of his peers — top-notch musicians who have played with Lucinda Williams, Eric Clapton, Bonnie Raitt, Dwight Yoakam and the Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash.

Though there are no shortcuts for the hard work of touring, Stuart said life on the road gets easier with time. After residing for years on the West Coast and having spent more than a decade performing at least 200 shows each year on a stretch of road that winds from Bakersfield to the badlands of South Dakota, across the plains to the northeast, Mid-Atlantic and South and as far away as Europe, Stuart feels at home living in the “Live Music Capital of the World.”

And while Stuart is focused on the road ahead with the Bastard Sons, he appreciates what he accomplished with his former outfit, and will continue to perform material from its three critically acclaimed albums: Walk Alone (2001), Distance Between (2002) and Mile Markers (2005). Regardless of the band’s name, Stuart hopes fans will continue to embrace his music.

With his new home, new band and new CD, this roots-rock ramblin’ man, Americana troubadour and producer, is ready for the next bend in the road.

Mark Stuart and the Bastard Sons
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