Black Music Matters Festival

Gary Stewart

Best of the Hightone Years – 2002 (HighTone)

Reviewed by Stuart Munro

CDs by Gary Stewart

This collection from Gary Stewart gives a variety of honky tonk by the former HighTone artist and makes for a fine introduction to his work with the label.

"Best of the Hightone Years" is a precisely accurate title for the second comp, because Gary Stewart rarely equalled the brillance of the music he made for RCA - "Little Junior," say, or "Single Again" - during his time at HighTone. Still, moments like "Nothin' Cheap About A Cheap Affair," "Bedroom Battleground" and "Let's Go Jukin'" are vintage Gary Stewart, and the essentials of his music hadn't gone anywhere. Those essentials - Stewart's mix of stone honky tonk, southern rock and hit-bottom ballads - are well-represented here. What's missing is the power of his remarkable waver of a voice. "I Ain't Living Long Like This," Stewart sang in 1977; living like that hadn't killed him but had taken its toll on that once-incredible singing instrument by thetime he made these recordings. That sad fact notwithstanding, less-than-perfect Gary Stewart is better than no Gary Stewart at all, as this compilation attests.