When Marty Stuart gets officially enshrined in the Country Music Hall of Fame later this fall, he and Connie Smith will be the first living, married couple to share space in the museum's rotunda. To fact check that, let's weed out the usual suspects: AP and Sara Carter were divorced before there ever was a Hall of Fame, George Jones and Tammy Wynette split before both had their names called, June Carter Cash has yet to be inducted and Boudleaux Bryant died before he and his wife Felice were enshrined for their contributions to country songwriting.
The road to that trivia answer began in 1996 when the couple started working together on Smith's self-titled 1998 studio album. They wed in between in the summer of 1997. Twenty-four years of marriage later, the family circle (in the marital and country music senses) remains unbroken on Smith's third collaborative project with Stuart and her first album in a decade, The Cry of the Heart (out Aug. 20 via Fat Possum Records).
Like prior Smith albums featuring Stuart as a songwriter, musician and producer, the new set of songs upholds the couple's classic country leanings while enticing fans of current country and Americana to sit, listen and learn.
"We started writing together because I knew he was so creative," Smith told Wide Open Country. "I hadn't recorded in 20 years, and I thought, 'Well, I need someone that knows how I feel because I still feel about music the same way I did when I recorded in the '60s.' But I needed somebody that kind of had a pulse on what was going on now. His was the only name that came to mind. I didn't know he had ever produced before, which he had."
Nearly a quarter-century of matrimony's further smoothed out their already productive music-making rapport.
"Everything is easier because I've gotten to know him and trust him and he's gotten to know me and know how I operate," Smith added. "It works out much better than when we first met and I didn't know him because we basically came from a different era, in a sense. I was from the '60s, and he was hitting in the '90s."
The story behind the two Smith and Stuart co-writes on the album, "Here Comes My Baby Back Again" and "Spare Me No Truth Tonight," captures the creative spontaneity of a couple that finishes each others' sentences and lyrics.
"We were going somewhere, and it was only Marty and I on the bus with a driver," Smith explained. "Any time Marty goes past a guitar, he's going to pick it up, so we just started writing. So we came up with those two on that same day."
Stuart isn't the only like-minded country great in the credits. "Elvira" wordsmith Dallas Frazier contributed "I Just Don't Believe Me Anymore," upping the number of Frazier compositions cut over the years by Smith to 72 (more than double the number of songs Smith's cut by the songwriter she's most associated with, Bill Anderson).
"Dallas got to where he kind of knew me and knew the way I sang and knew the way I thought, and he's written a couple of songs of mine that he wrote about me, like 'Where is My Castle' and 'Just For What I Am.' That was an honor," Smith said. "But he got to where he knew how I sang, and I like a demo when someone pitches it to me that's just... Dallas would be playing the piano, stomping his foot and singing. That was all that was on the demo. I like that because if I like the song, I thought, 'Well, I know what I want to do with that.' Now they pitch you a demo that is so elaborate that you want to say, 'Well go ahead and put it out. It's done!' I like something that I can create because that, to me, is what recording is. It's a new creation."
Other familiar names range from Nashville session pianist Hargus "Pig" Robbins, who'd played on Smith's first album back in 1965, to an impressive list of songwriters: Merle Haggard ("Jesus, Take a Hold"), Carl Jackson ("To Pieces"), Melba Montgomery (Jackson co-write "I'm Not Over You"), Mel Tillis ("All the Time") and Stuart's Fabulous Superlatives bandmate Harry Stinson ("Look Out Heart"). There's even historic instruments at play, with Stuart playing Clarence White of The Byrds' guitar on "Look Out Heart," and a cover of the late Grand Ole Opry member Billy Walker's "A Million and One," originally recorded for The Marty Stuart Show.
"I think this one was the best yet, and we've got about seven songs ready for the next album," Smith said of her latest collection of honest-to-goodness story-songs, created with multiple talents either in the Hall of Fame or, in the case of Frazier and a few others, overdue an induction.