Wynn Stewart 

The Very Best of 1958-1962 Varese Sarabande

Buck, Merle... Wynn. That's how the West Coast country sound would be known if the vagaries of fame -- and an early passing in 1985 -- hadn't left Stewart's legacy in the hands of anthologizers. Luckily, Bear Family's all-inclusive ten-disc set is now joined by this affordable single-disc sampling of Stewart's seminal sides from the late '50s and early '60s.

Even among his Bakersfield contemporaries, Stewart stood out as both a gifted singer and songwriter. His croon took him from rockabilly ("Come On") to tragic ballads ("The Long Black Limousine" -- picked up by Elvis a decade later) to workingman anthems ("Another Day, Another Dollar"). He cracked the Top 5 with "Wishful Thinking" but was unable to sustain consistent chart success.

His releases, worthy of being hits in their own right, often served as templates for others. Buck Owens covered "Above and Beyond (The Call of Love)" after hearing Stewart's version, and Merle Haggard had his first hit with Stewart's "Sing a Sad Song." Dwight Yoakam, Nick Lowe, k.d. lang, and Roger Wallace have all borrowed pages from the Wynn Stewart songbook.

A single disc could never fully survey Stewart's career (his number-one hit for Capitol, "It's Such a Pretty World Today," is missing, for example), but these eighteen sides show off the essence of his artistry, and beg the listener to save up for the Bear Family box.

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