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Gary Stewart

RCA Country Legends – 2004 (RCA Nashville/BMG Heritage)

Reviewed by Stuart Munro

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CDs by Gary Stewart

There's no small amount of irony in Gary Stewart's inclusion in RCA's "country legend" series, given that he was more the beneficiary of a passionate, almost cult-like following than of widespread fame or commercial success. Stewart was absolutely sui generis, both for his honky-tonk/southern rock amalgam and his wild, over-the-edge vibrato, and if this latest compilation serves to introduce his music to new listeners, that's probably a good enough reason for its existence.

On its own merits, though, those reasons are harder to find. RCA's earlier compilation, 1997's "Essential," is just as good if not better an introduction to his music. And one might cavil that the best song Stewart ever laid down, the harrowing, desperate wail "Single Again," is absent here or wish that the label had chosen instead to reissue the RCA albums that have yet to see digital form, "Steppin' Out" or (most of all) "Little Junior"; but what would be the point of that?

On the flip side, there are a couple of attractions here for veteran Stewart fans, if they're willing to pony up at the bargain price-point: a couple of his early Kapp singles ("Sweet-Tater and Cisco" and "You're Not the Woman You Used to Be"), and an early RCA single, Stewart's cover of the Allman's "Ramblin' Man."