Some music you love so much you keep it in the shade–like in a wine cellar–and only break it out for special occasions. Maybe it’s so intense it has to be partaken of in small, spaced-out doses; maybe it’s so intense one doesn’t want to overexpose oneself to it, and thus dull its brilliance.
A precious few singers are in my musical wine cellar. One of them is the late, great Gary Stewart, and though yesterday wasn’t a special occasion, his voice started echoing inside my skull while I was reading Walter Miller, Jr.’s A Canticle for Leibowitz–go figure, because I can’t. I have a good portion of Stewart’s discography, but I broke out the killer one-two punch, two-fer-one Koch/BMG CD Out of Hand / Your Place or Mine and the only slightly less powerful Steppin’ Out / Little Junior, released by those smart Aussies from Raven Records. Don’t listen to this stuff while doing anything else; if it’s familiar to you–if you’ve lived your life–you might well feel some deep identification with the pain Gary conveys so precisely, and find yourself singing along. Able to ascend to full-throated honky hollers or descend to ‘tween-the-teeth whispers, punctuating nearly every phrase with a bourbon-cured quaver that some might call mannerism and others might hear as signifying the ol’ emotional thumbscrews gettin’ a twist, Stewart was a master actor, a seller of songs, and what a lot he got to sing: “Drinkin’ Thing,” “This Old Heart Just Won’t Let Go,” “She’s Actin’ Single (I’m Drinkin’ Doubles),” “Out of Hand,” “Your Place or Mine,” “Ten Years of This,” “Broken-Hearted People,” “Quits,” “Flat-Natural Born Good-Timin’ Man,” “In Some Room Above the Street,” “Whiskey Trip,” “Little Junior,” “Single Again,” “I Got Mine,” “Let’s Forget That We’re Married”–and those are all on these two discs.
The guy could pick ’em, write ’em himself, play the hell out of slide guitar, and roll the keys like Jerry Lee (whom he notably sounds much like, except Gary means it, man, whereas the Killer just don’t give a fuck). I’d attribute it to the coke and whiskey, but I don’t think he ever got to fully realize all those talents. His story is as riddled with intense sorrow as his best songs; I strongly recommend you read Jimmy McDonough’s account for Perfect Sound Forever, but have a hanky handy.
Please enjoy this 15-song Gary Stewart primer–stoked with some great live clips and some hard-to-find rawboned classics.
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