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Gary Stewart

Steppin' Out/Little Junior – 2005 (Raven (import))

Reviewed by Stuart Munro

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CDs by Gary Stewart

It's been a long time coming, but Gary Stewart's best album - "Little Junior" - is finally seeing the digital light of day. The fourth album he released during his tenure at RCA, it was the peak expression of Stewart's singular iteration of honky tonk music - by turns stone country and southern-rock or blues-fueled, framing a singing instrument that ranged from harrowing desperation to switchblade swagger.

From the pathetic wails of "Whiskey Trip" and "You're Running Wild," to the hard country of "Stone Wall (Around Your Heart)," the autobiographical strut of "Little Junior," an over-the-top treatment of Hank's "Honky Tonkin'," and its crowning achievement, "Single Again," this is an album for the ages.

In fact, the only thing better than the album's reissue itself is Raven's pairing it up with "Steppin' Out," a very fine album in its own right (also making its first appearanceon CD here). The coup de grace, though, is the addition of a previously unreleased track and three single sides, especially 1978's "Honky Tonk Man," which features one of the most intense vocal performances ever laid down by a man whose singing gave new meaning to the word.