Gary Stewart

Live at Billy Bob's Texas

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Other than reissues and best-of releases, Live at Billy Bob's Texas is Gary Stewart's first new album in a decade, and his first-ever live recording -- which seems odd for a performer whose songs seem to be tailor-made for live performance. In the 1970s, Stewart defined what was left of the true honky tonk tradition, and into the '80s and '90s continued to write and record quality material, but his style of country music had long fallen out of fashion and he fell into nearly complete obscurity. This is the album Stewart should have cut in the late '70s -- it's full of 16 stunning examples of what he does best: write and perform hardcore honky tonk country flawlessly with all the piss, vinegar, and passion that much younger men only wish they could muster. There are many Stewart-penned classics in this bunch, including "She's Actin' Single (I'm Drinkin' Doubles)," "Flat Born Good Timin' Man," "Single Again," and "An Empty Glass (That's the Way the Day Ends)." Of the covers, Stewart's choices are impeccable: Wayne Carson's "Drinkin' Thing," Sterling Whipple's "In Some Room Above the Street," and one of the most moving versions of Danny O'Keefe's "Quits" ever captured on tape. Stewart's voice has actually gotten better with age, slightly lower and full of pathos, brokenness, and sheer hell-raising abandon. His band, though unforgivably not credited anywhere in the liner notes, is obviously rooted deep in Stewart's style of honky tonk country; pianos and pedal steel guitar dominate the proceedings and the rhythm section lays just behind the beat to let the guitars and voices fill the entirety of the space in the middle. The pedal steel player, whoever he is, deserves all the work he can handle for his tasteful, emotionally revealing fills that give Stewart that added ledge to step out on. Despite the fact that has been over 30 years since Stewart first appeared in Nashville, this debut live album numbers among his best. This is essential for fans and serves as a more-than-worthy primer for beginners.

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