Gary/Cactus And A Rose
Country crooner Gary Stewart arrived just as country was moving from rural settings to a more urban contemporary scene, and he benefited from the change. His career took off in 1975 with the release of his hit single “She’s Acting Single (And I’m Drinking Doubles),” and his humorous tales of the urban cowboy scene earned him an audience. The twofers in this latest collection, 1979’s Gary and 1980’s Cactus And A Rose, capture Stewart entering into a fallow period, the chart hits drying up, and a modest touring career taking its place.
Gary, from 1979, is a fine—if not somewhat atypical—country pop record from the era. The touchstones of what makes it a country record are definitely in place; the pedal steel providing a lonesome howl on “Shady Streets” and an intoxicating mood on “The Same Man,” while “the blues” can be found in the genre exercise “The Blues Don’t Care Who’s Got ‘Em” and the merely okay “Everything A Good Little Girl Needs.” “I’ve Just Seen The Rock Of Ages” is a Gospel number, and is one of the better numbers on offer, as is his take on the Hank Williams’ classic “Lost Highway.”
Better is 1980 follow-up, Cactus And A Rose. Produced by the legendary Chips Moman, and featuring members of the Allman Brothers as his backing band, it’s a stronger affair, one that escapes the dull, anodyne production of Gary. It doesn’t hurt that Moman had a masterful ear and a knack for finding suitable material for his clients, as the songs here are generally stronger and quite suited for Stewart’s range. With the songs ranging from big country ballads such as “Okeechobee Purple” and “Are We Dreaming The Same Dream” sitting nicely with the country rockers like “Ghost Train” and the boogie-woogie fun of “Roarin’” and “How Can We Come To This After That,” Cactus And A Rose is an excellent collection of barroom rock and country, ironically being an uncompromising hard country record devoid of commercial considerations that crossed over to the pop charts.
Sadly, Cactus And A Rose would prove to be the final commercially successful solo record. His next two albums were collaborations with Dean Dillon, and were modestly successful, but his run of chart success as a solo artist was over. Instead, he did as many country musicians do and became an almost exclusively live touring act, sporadically releasing albums as until his death in 2003. While Gary might not satisfy, Cactus And A Rose is an enjoyable collaboration and still sounds fresh thirty-seven years on.