When life and music collide, the impact is visceral.
That’s the best way to describe Nashville recording artist, Marty Falle’s recent album release, Kentucky Blue Star, which was recorded in January with an all-star lineup of musicians in the legendary confines of County Q recording studio and produced by the talented Johnathan Yudkin.
After recording Virgin on the Bluegrass in 2021, Falle always assumed there’d be another album. What was unexpected, though, was the news that he had an aggressive form of prostate cancer that required immediate surgery. Falle credits his wife for saving his life.
“His results weren’t out of the normal range,” she recalls, “but they were elevated, and I knew Marty’s grandfather had died from prostate cancer at an early age.”
She encouraged her husband to see a specialist, and a biopsy confirmed it was cancer. After recuperating from a radical prostatectomy, Falle had a serious setback – a life-threatening Lymphocele postsurgical complication – that kept him hospitalized for five days until he stabilized. After initial optimism, the cancer returned requiring eight weeks of radiation.
The timing of his health challenges seemed especially cruel considering Falle had recently lost his college roommate to cancer, his brother-in-law to a heart attack, and his best friend to a heart attack. Still grieving, he wondered about his own future.
Known for his tenacious work ethic (He’s a Senior Principal with a Fortune 50 Technology Company in addition to his music), his steadfast commitment to his wife and ten-year-old son Macklin, as well as his exuberant passion for writing and recording music, Falle now only had energy to face the battle in front of him.
Some days he felt like a warrior; other days he wasn’t sure he’d survive.
“It was a turbulent time. I didn’t want the challenges of cancer to stop me from my goals and passions,” he says.
Though he sporadically wrote songs, Falle wondered if he’d ever have the chance to record again. Working his way back into shape took months.
“Last December, when my bloodwork came back with good PSA results, it was both a milestone and a motivator for me to get back in the studio,” he adds.
Reaching out to his team in Nashville, Falle set a date for recording. With his creative on-switch fully back on, he went into overdrive. Sometimes he heard the lyrics to a song faster than he could find a pencil, resorting to recording on his I-phone.
“If there’s something gnawing at me,” Falle laughs, “I got to get it written or it’ll keep bothering me. It’s like everything I’m doing, I’m humming it … in the shower, in the car. Once I write it down, it’s out of my system.”
Laying Down Tracks
From the moment Falle’s team met inside the small, 1950-ish black-and-white house that is County Q, a wave of camaraderie flowed as freely as the consumption of coffee and doughnuts from the kitchen.
In the control room where a single window revealed the gray clouds of a winter day, the collective vibe was electric. Ace Lutz was at the boards, while Carl Miner (Flat Picker of the Year Champion), Michael Bub (one of Nashville’s premier upright bass players), Rob Ickes (founding member of the contemporary bluegrass band Blue Highway), and Matt Menefee (Co-founder of bluegrass acoustic groups Cadillac Sky and ChessBoxer) grabbed seats on the two leather couches.
Producer and musician, Yudkin (Academy of Country Music Award Fiddle Player of the Year), headed to the center of the room, while Marty strode towards the vocal booth in cowboy boots.
racking 13 new songs over two days is the goal,” declared Falle, who also mentioned that the first three songs had been written in the past two weeks.
No one looked surprised, though someone did ask, “What’s the process?”
“Only cheese is processed!” quipped Yudkin, who quickly suggested they “get to work” on the first song, “Kentucky Blue Star.”
Then the magic began.
“You start with Marty, and we’ll come in,” Yudkin instructed the bass player, while chirping, “A little ice cream scoop there with sprinkles on top,” to Ickes on dobro.
A round robin of questions and suggestions followed before everyone scattered to their sound booths.
From the first notes, the room seemed to brighten. Falle’s solid vocals cut through the staccato of the banjo and the wailing dobro like an auctioneer calling everyone to the dancefloor. It was toe-tapping bluegrass at its finest.
After the final notes, the sun broke through the clouds, just as Yudkin exclaimed, “That was sick!”
By the third track, Falle’s boots were off. Although his stamina still wasn’t 100 percent, he clearly was enjoying himself.
Thanks to what Yudkin describes as a “group consciousness” most recordings only required one take. Falle’s version is: “Talk about it; hit the button – and go!”
In the end, 11 songs and one instrumental piece were put on tape, each unique and different, made even more special by the addition of backup vocals by Kim Parent (Brooks & Dunn) and Marty Slayton (George Strait).
What to Expect
Yudkin describes the album as “slick and contemporary but with all the elements of bluegrass,” and he commends Falle’s decision to delve further into the genre.
“Marty has found his place and taken it a step further,” praises Yudkin, adding, “He embodies the spirit of bluegrass, yet he doesn’t write typical songs which brings a fresh presentation to this style of music.”
Diversity defines the album. Starting with the sweet-sounding, “Kentucky Blue Star,” the tempo switches gears with “Daytona,” a double-time, rock-a-billy song about the thrill of a NASCAR race.
In “Ridin’” as well as “God Help this Workin’ Man,” – both songs about life on the road – the blend of instruments echoes the roar of an 18-wheeler barreling down the highway, while “Cherokee,” a ballad that starts with a guitar rake, slowly delivers a mournful tale about the Trail of Tears.
Skip to track eight, “Daddy’s Shotgun,” and you’ll be smiling. Its bluesy chords with double-time passages accompany one man’s frantic escape from a romantic interlude as he’s chased by a shotgun-wielding father. The frenetic pace became so challenging during the recording that by the end of the song every band member was grimacing and wiping their brow.
Pivoting yet again, the album concludes with an instrumental jam titled, “Whiskey for Breakfast.”
Blue Star Inspiration
Although the album remained untitled at the close of the recording session, there was no doubt that the first track, “Kentucky Blue Star,” was special.
“It was the last song I had written, and it was very prevalent in my mind,” recalls Falle, reliving his family’s trip to their farm in Eastern Kentucky that inspired the music. “We were hiking, and the fields were filled with these beautiful blue wildflowers.”
Somewhere in the contrast between those simple, stunning flowers and the scarred landscape, broken by coal mining and logging industries, the pieces of a song began to emerge. Woven into every lyric were layers of meaning about falling in love, dancing despite the hardship, and appreciating the simple things that create joy.
All of it reflected Falle’s own lessons of endurance and resilience learned during a dark and difficult season. The more he pondered, the clearer it became: Kentucky Blue Star was meant to be the album’s title.
“When I reached out to T.J. Matousek, an award-winning Disney artist who I’ve known since childhood, about doing the cover, it took on a life of its own,” says Falle, who is gratefully embracing every note with optimism and presently cancer-free.
*** To learn more about Falle’s music, go to www.martyfallemusic.com