Review – Mike & The Moonpies Cover Lost Gary Stewart Songs
Mike Harmeier, Caitlin Rutherford, Kyle Ponder, Zach Moulton, and the incomparable Omar Oyoque. Mike and the Moonpies as they’re know collectively. Also known as the greatest country music band in the world at the moment.
Gary Stewart. The King of the Honky Tonks. A guy that you could make a strong claim should be considered for the Country Music Hall of Fame. And no matter where he fits in your country music pecking order, if you know Gary Stewart’s body of work, you know him to be one of the most criminally underrated country music performers of all time.
There’s no question how the legacy of Gary Stewart is regarded when it comes to Mike and the Moonpies. When they were coming up in the honky tonks of Austin playing multi-hour sets for two-steppers and crazy Texans, Gary Stewart songs were a strong portion of their repertoire, and a primary influence on their sound. So who better to hand off some previously unheard Gary Stewart material to, and have them do their worst?
The idea looks spectacular on paper, and was signed off on specifically by Gary’s family and executors. But appreciate just what a challenge this particular project presents. Sure, plenty of country performers over the years have put themselves up to the task of recording the material of their heroes. Merle did a double record of Jimmie Rodgers. Waylon cut an album of entirely of Billy Joe Shaver songs. Bobby Bare covered Shel Silverstein. It’s a rite of passage in country. But in these instances, those artists got the pick of the litter from an artist’s entire catalog.
In this situation, Mike and the Moonpies are digging through songs that didn’t make the cut originally. These are the odds and sods—the orphans and abandoned that never made it onto a Gary Stewart record. Lucky for them, and for us, Gary Stewart’s cast offs are still better than many a songwriter’s A-list material.
Similar to Mike and the Moonpies, Gary Stewart understood that a crowded honky tonk could be a hell of a good time, but simultaneously, the loneliest place in the entire Universe. Writing songs that spoke to this dichotomy—often to both sides in the same breath—is the reason he was crowned the King of the Honky Tonks. Stewart also knew that country music is inherently cliche. But instead of either being repulsed by this or perfectly unaware like some songwriters, he embraced it, used it to his advantage, never taking himself too seriously, but always approaching the writing and performing of country music as a serious business, similar to what we’ve seen from the original output from Mike and the Moonpies.
Touch of You – The Lost Songs of Gary Stewart may not have as many hot smokers as some Gary Stewart and Mike and the Moonpies fans want. Both artists are (or were) so spectacular live—bringing an infectious energy and sweaty funkiness to the hot twang of country—that they almost have become victims of their own success, unable to feature as many of their slow songs as they wish, despite the quality of this material holding up to the speedier stuff.
Along with the strength of this unheard material from Gary Stewart, how Mike Harmeier really steps up to sing the hell out of it is a big takeaway of Touch of You. Of course, he will never match what Gary Stewart did, and trying would be foolhardy. But adding just a little bit of that Gary Stewart vibrato to the vocal tracks, along with a major amount of mustard behind the delivery of every single line and phrase makes Touch of You Mike Harmeier’s crowning vocal achievement so far.
You can tell Harmeier and the band took this work very seriously, and felt the weight of being responsible for representing Gary Stewart’s songs on their shoulders. Don’t compare Mike to Gary. That would be unfair. But comparing Mike to Mike, he hit this one out of the park. And no matter anyone’s assessment of this record specifically, covering a bunch of unheard Gary Stewart songs will always be one of the coolest things Mike and the Moonpies ever did on a growing list of cool things and curve balls this honky tonk outfit continues to throw our way.
And as far as the Moonpies go, emulating that sweaty 70’s honky tonk sound is second nature to them. It’s what they do every night and have for years. They fit right into the spirit and groove of these ten tracks and make them their own. Don’t be afraid to name the more upbeat tracks like the opening song “Bottom Of The Pile” or “The Gold Barstool” your favorites. Just make sure you dive head first into the performances and songwriting of the title track, or the final song “Heart A Home.” Touch of You represents all aspects of Gary Stewart’s sounds and songwriting, and they all deserve attention.
And props to producer Adam Odor for pulling this all together, including finalizing many of the songs under quarantine. The production—just like the music and songs—fits the Gary Stewart era. And though some may find elements of the mixing and mastering less than ideal, it works to set the proper mood and time period. And though the band Midland has been made fun of often—and very specifically for being a byproduct of Mike and the Moonpies—Mark Wystrach lending his voice to “Smooth Shot of Whiskey” can only add additional attention to the Moonpies, this project, and Gary Stewart. If there was a second band who you can hear the ghost of Gary Stewart in, it’s probably Midland.
As Mike Harmeier says, “A big part of this is turning people on to Gary who didn’t know Gary before. We wouldn’t be who we are without Gary.” But hopefully Gary helps turn some people onto Mike and the Moonpies too. Because similar to Gary in his time, Mike and the Moonpies are criminally underrated. And as Touch of You – The Lost Songs of Gary Stewart attests, they both deserve a hell of a lot more recognition.
1 3/4 Guns Up (8/10)
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NOTE: This release is currently only available digitally.
May 28, 2020 @ 8:05 am
it’s a good listen. brief, but good. i wonder if they’ll ever put out an album that is in the 40-50 minute range… sort of the norm these days.
May 28, 2020 @ 8:21 am
That was the only issue I had with the album honestly. Idk if the other ten songs they were sent were not very good (doubt it) but honestly I would have liked if they covered a few songs that made it on to Gary’s albums. I would have been completely happy with that but that’s my only issue
May 28, 2020 @ 9:50 am
In an era where the common complaint is that albums have gotten long and unlistenable, better to have an album that leaves you wanting more than one that overstays its welcome.
May 28, 2020 @ 10:09 am
i think shorter albums run a greater chance of wearing out their welcome sooner because in order to get more of a “fix” for lack of a better term, you’re listening to less material more times. i think we’ve all over listened to some records. anyways, two or three more songs is all we’re really talking about.
May 28, 2020 @ 8:10 am
Gary Stewart was unique. No one sounded like him. His music had energy and an edge. Great songs. He deserved more recognition. Well done to Mike and Moonpies. Recognition of a forgotten talent and they do him justice. 2 great songs. I look forward to hearing the others. Hopefully those that hear this album will check out Gary Stewart’s albums. They will be in for a treat. Great review,
May 28, 2020 @ 9:52 am
I’m not familiar with Gary Stewart at all, but I’m a huge fan of Mike and the Moonpies. Will definitely be checking out his music after this.
May 28, 2020 @ 2:08 pm
I honestly thought the same thing. Gary Stewart was quite a ways before my time, but after listening to this record, I started listening to his stuff.
I’m grateful for these guys highlighting his stuff. Mission accomplished for Mike and the Moonpies (as far as I’m concerned!)
May 28, 2020 @ 8:15 am
This album and the new American Aquarium have been the two albums that I got the most excited about so far this year. I still need more time but I’m really enjoying the album and definitely think this will fit somewhere in my top 10 albums of the year depending on the new albums coming out. Appreciate your take on the album and god bless Mike and the Moonpies!
May 30, 2020 @ 10:09 am
AA and MMP are two big favorites on this site, but I just don’t find either all that compelling. I’ve tried again and again. I’ve never seen either live, and that might change my perception.
May 28, 2020 @ 8:16 am
Looks like Midland found out who they knocked off. Joking aside, quick listen and this is a great album.
May 28, 2020 @ 3:16 pm
Before I listened to Midlands first record I noticed how similar their logo font and design was so close to Your Place Or Mine. I don’t bleme em. Mr Stewart is a legend
May 28, 2020 @ 8:30 am
May 28, 2020 @ 8:36 am
Yeah the first thing I noticed after a full listen is Mike knocking it out of the park vocally and range wise. Stretching and nailing it. Adam, another great job knob twiddling etc you’re “the glue”…Just another amazing breath of fresh air for the summer rotation.
May 28, 2020 @ 8:40 am
Reminds of Mermaid Avenue by Wilco and Billy Bragg when they took unfinished Woody Guthrie songs and created new music for previously written lyrics.
I like this album a lot. The average consumer might not even realize that these aren’t original compositions by the Moonpies.
May 28, 2020 @ 8:45 am
I love that the Moonpies are having a good time. Cheap Silver, and then this. Lots of fun.
Helluva band. And the last live show I saw before the world went to hell.
May 28, 2020 @ 11:47 am
Bottom of the pile is a total love song to one of Gary Stewarts obsessions, little tiny obscure honky tonks, particularly in Texas where he was a star. From what I’ve read, Stewart hated the big crowds and big venues and loathed the fame, yet would unhesitatingly play a dive bar whenever he could.
This stuff is marvelous. Talk about an abundance of riches, new Mike and the Pies, new Charley Crockett, new MO Pitney coming, oh my…
The disrespectful, 100% playlist & suggestions free OlaR
May 28, 2020 @ 8:46 am
After 2 rounds with the album mixed with the Gary Stewart Best Of The Hightone Years album…i’m impressed.
My highlights: “The Finished Product” & “Heart A Home”.
And tomorrow…Jaime Wyatt & a new Dolly Parton song is out: “When Life Is Good Again”.
May 28, 2020 @ 8:55 am
Just finished the album. Mike and the Moonpies are right at the top of the country heap with Cody Jinks and Tyler Childers for me. Great album, not a bad song on the thing.
May 28, 2020 @ 9:44 am
Solid album. For me it starts slow but finishes strong. I doubt it will grow on me but it’s no where near the level of cheap silver. But that just tells me Mike is a better songwriter than Gary was.
May 28, 2020 @ 10:02 am
Keep in mind this is Gary Stewart’s C-level work. I’m not going to slight either one of them as songwriters. Pull up a listen of Stewart’s mid 70’s stuff. Out of Hand, Steppin’ Out, and Your Place or Mine is about as killer as a three album span can get in country music.
May 28, 2020 @ 11:36 am
Very good point.
May 28, 2020 @ 9:03 pm
I actually felt like the lyrics on Cheap Silver took a back seat to the overall Abbey Road string quartet concept and aesthetic, like the instrumentation was the priority – written and recorded apart (I believe it actually was, mostly) from the lyrics.
Mind you I love the album, but Cheap Silver comes across to me as a bit lyrically dull, even awkward in spots, compared to previous Moonpies albums. Mike’s obviously capable of writing sharp, witty, memorable songs, but I don’t think that skillset was fully utilized on Cheap Silver. His vocals were great though.
Haven’t quite settled on how I’d compare this new album with the rest of their catalogue, but I sort of consider it a fun, creative detour or homage rather than a proper Moonpies album.
May 28, 2020 @ 10:42 am
I feel that Mike has really refined his vocals from album to album. Definitely noticed this one was no exception. Decent collection of songs we’d probably never have heard otherwise, but I would’ve really loved to hear the Moonpies take on Drinking Thing or She’s acting Single as well.
God bless Mike and the Moonpies for being consistently awesome and never being afraid to mix things up.
May 28, 2020 @ 10:49 am
This is my favorite band, so obviously I come into each album with tremendous expectations.
This one didn’t blow me away first listen, honestly.
I’m not extremely familiar with Gary Stewart, but seems to me from Wikipedia that he didn’t write very many of his own songs…maybe it’s the writing? Maybe I just miss Mike’s writing.
Perhaps it will click with a couple more listens.
May 28, 2020 @ 12:31 pm
Mike sings his ass off on this record. Hell yeah.
May 28, 2020 @ 1:19 pm
Feels too short ‘cause it’s so good
May 28, 2020 @ 2:32 pm
Never underestimate the power of a good cover. I had never heard of Gary Stewart until early 2016, when the inimitable Wade Sapp covered “Out of Hand” on Sunday night at Santa’s Pub. Not only did Wade burn that triple-wide trailer to the ground, but he piqued my interest. Gary now has a prominent place in my vinyl collect.
Side note: If y’all haven’t heard Wade Sapp, give him a look-see. Kid’s got the goods.
May 28, 2020 @ 3:46 pm
A real treat from my favorite current country band. Big props to artists and bands like the Moonpies, keeping active, creative, and releasing new content during the pandemic. I know it means a lot to the fans. Sure does to me.
Clueless in Ny
May 28, 2020 @ 4:33 pm
Can someone enlighten me as to who in Red Dirt Country tradition popularized the conversation mid-verse?
There’s a short back and forth in the song with the Midland dude (Smooth Shot of Whiskey) which made me think of Rogers and Bowen, which made me think of Hayes and Lund.
I obviously don’t have a huge (time) frame of reference.
It might not be unique to Red Dirt–I hear it a lot in Loretta and Conway songs, though it’s a little different–but it IS unique IN Red Dirt Country.
Anyway, I dig it and any help tracking it back would be appreciated.
May 28, 2020 @ 5:51 pm
These guys are commended for putting out another great album during hard times, if you don’t know Gary Stewart, please do check him out and if you can, listen to ‘Empty Glass’ off the ‘Live at Billy Bob’s’ cd with the great Steve Paluosek’s incredible steel solo, if that doesn’t hit you then you’ll never get Gary Stewart. The pain comes through on his vocals. He was an interesting, complex man, wish he was still here, but his star burned out early.
Harmeier and the boys are so productive these days and I appreciate their output, hate it when it takes 2 years to put out new material as some artists do, these guys are working hard and taking it in different directions, reminds me of the Stones in the early and mid seventies!
May 28, 2020 @ 6:15 pm
Nice reference. The Moonpies efforts have benefited from smoother production and recording technology than the Stones enjoyed during their hayday, but I really wish more artists would just cut loose in the studio on a regular basis like that. Those late 60s/early 70s Stones records were so gritty and real. Flaws and imperfections included, they made for some great albums.
May 29, 2020 @ 7:43 am
A lot of bands and artists in the 60’s/70’s, not just the Stones, released an album per year, sometimes two per year. That was the norm. Wasn’t ’til the 80’s/90’s the industry machinery got so complex and drawn out (marketing, press junkets, tours, videos etc.) that an artist’s output slowed way down.
Not to mention the shear amount of new content, in total, from so many artists and so many new competing formats and forms of entertainment in the 80’s and onward. I could be wrong but I’d imagine in the 60’s/70’s the average music consumer would focus intensely on a handful of their favorite artists and that’s all they’d buy. It only made sense for bands back then to put out new content quickly, to keep fans engaged and loyal.
Now, the average music fan probably can’t really even pinpoint what their favorite music is much less their favorite artist, because they can literally access everything anytime and they simply listen to whatever’s on a Spotify playlist. Nowadays it’s harder for most bands to keep fans engaged long term, so releasing new content yearly might not make sense, whereas viral marketing and touring do. Now it’s about the “event” and the “experience” rather than the actual content.
Some current bands actually do have yearly album output though. In country, I’m thinking Charley Crockett (besides the Moonpies), in rock/metal I’m thinking King Gizzard And The Lizard Wizard, White Denim, and Ghost. I’d imagine some hip-hop artists are fairly prolific too. The shelf life of most hip-hop artists is pretty short.
May 28, 2020 @ 6:45 pm
Absolutely love it. Jamie and Courtney finishes it off is like that ilast bit of good bourbon in a glass.
May 28, 2020 @ 7:13 pm
Am seventy-one years old, live in Kentucky, and have listened to Gary Stewart since the late sixties. He was the only singer that I thought could make the vibrato voice work in such a variety of songs. Now I know Mike and the Moonpies, never hear of them, I don’t listen to country music past nineteen eighty or so. I can hear the Gary Stewart sound and it’s great without making it sound like Gary Stewart Tribute album. Thank you. I’m going to listen to more Mike and the Moonpies.
May 28, 2020 @ 7:47 pm
In the Gary Stewart song “Sweet-Tater and Cisco” the disco called The Bottom of the Pile is mentioned.
May 30, 2020 @ 6:40 pm
Yes, he does. I started to mention that when I was writing the notes that the publicist ask me to provide for each song on the album and I guess I saw a squirrel. Thanks for even knowing that.
May 29, 2020 @ 8:08 am
I happened to be listening to this great record when I saw this article I love this record and the spirit of Gary Stewart is prominent throughout this project. I have been listening to Gary forever and got to see him play live. I can’t imagine he wouldn’t be happy with this record. RIP Maestro!!!
May 29, 2020 @ 4:38 pm
Have played this 3 times over today while working, and am so impressed, ‘That’s life’ is so damn good as are so many others, ‘Touch of You’, ‘Heart a Home’ and ‘Smooth Shot of Whiskey’.
I know many people will flame me for complimenting Mark Wystrach, but he and Mike sound so good together, and BTW I love Midland as well, (Fire Suit On).
The band is great, They have content, musicianship, tal ent, interpretation, all covered.
I’m a big Gary Stewart fan, but more of a MATM fan in today’s world.
What’s great is that I can hear Gary Stewart, totally, and also the band’s personality as well, I’m getting older and know that times are changing, but The Moonpies keep the nostalgia in my present world. BTW I’ll be only 58 in two weeks, and I can still run circles around high school kids a third my age!
May 29, 2020 @ 5:56 pm
Great album..great band.. I was kinda irked when mikes so entertaining streams were only getting a couple hundred viewers compared to there.. wish more people would catch onI saw midland live last winter and they won me over..their output been pretty damn good..
May 30, 2020 @ 4:12 pm
If I heard the on the radio a few days ago, this is eventually going to come out on a phyical album, correct? If so, I hope so, as I will for sure get it. Saw Mike and the boys after Christmas last year in Coupland. One heck of a great show!
June 5, 2020 @ 8:07 pm
Wow. kudos to the moonpies for this. Gary Stewart not being in the country music hall of fame is a 2020 shocker. His songs hit like Hank Sr songs do. powerful, emotional and full of heartbreak like only those that lived it could sing about. God Bless Gary Stewart. a true original.