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Best of the Hightone Years

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Album Review

The late country singer and songwriter Gary Stewart may not have been a household name during his lifetime, but he did achieve some success, and indeed deserved far more than he got. His string of RCA recordings in the 1970s — Out of Hand, Steppin' Out, Your Place or Mine, Little Junior, and Gary — were brilliant, and juxtaposed the great honky tonk tradition against the emergent outlaw singers and songwriters, rockabilly, and even country boogie. His high tenor voice and signature song titles made him a choice for producers and authors alike. When outlaw music gave way to "urban cowboy," Stewart's star dimmed a bit, but he still managed to record a trio of albums for Hightone Records that, even though they lacked the production budget, still had the songs and performances. This 13-cut set compiles the best tracks from those three albums. Stewart updated his traditional "sound" very little, though he did rock it up a bit more with some great guitar work. This set, pared to the very finest form the Hightone years, includes the duet "An Empty Glass (That's the Way the Day Ends)," written and sung with Dean Dillon (the pair made a great record together called Brotherly Love), the underground country classic "Honky Tonk Hardwood Floor," the rollicking "Make It a Double," and the beautiful love song "Delia." While scoring a comp of the RCA hits is recommended before getting this one, this one should NOT be ignored.


Born: 28 May 1945 in Jenkins, KY

Genre: Country

Years Active: '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s

While much of what passes for contemporary country music in the '90s and 2000s sounds like reheated Eagles and Lynyrd Skynyrd, what's really annoying is what a youth-driven market it has become, leaving many great country performers of the '60s and '70s out in the cold. This is especially irritating when considering the career of Gary Stewart, one of the greatest of the hardcore-honky tonk school who, at his peak in the mid- to late '70s, could write and sing circles around just about any contemporary...
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