This discount two-fer appropriately pairs John Gary's first two RCA Victor albums, Catch a Rising Star and Encore, the former recorded at sessions in July and August 1963, the latter immediately after, in September and October. The 30-year-old Gary had kicked around in the music business for years without catching fire, perhaps because he was equally interested in his diving company, perhaps because the record labels weren't looking for a new traditional pop singer in the early rock & roll age. When RCA finally took the plunge, it was only months before the Beatles redefined the pop landscape. Nevertheless, Gary demonstrates the wisdom of the decision on these tracks. A tenor, he has a remarkably wide range and (maybe due to all that underwater work) terrific breath control. Yet he rarely oversings, even when he is drifting without seeming effort into his falsetto voice. The Catch a Rising Star selections (tracks one through 12) are more of a showcase for his versatility, taking in folk, country, and Caribbean elements; utilizing unusual arrangements such as a surprisingly spare and restrained "Unchained Melody"; and even allowing Gary one of his own compositions, the playful "Possum Song." With Encore (tracks 13-24), a deliberate effort seems to have been made to offer a more solid, impressive sense of Gary's talent, and he covers more established standards in more formal arrangements. He certainly survives this maturation process, but there are a lot of people who sing "Stranger in Paradise" more or less the same way, so he comes off not quite as individually as he did on his label debut. Together, however, the two albums give a very good sense of the well-developed abilities Gary presented at the start of his national career.
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann