Vaughan’s retooling of the blues made it relevant to a new generation.
Sean Egan 2013-01-24
This is a 30th anniversary "legacy edition" reissue of the debut album of Dallas-born Stevie Ray Vaughan, who died tragically young in a helicopter accident in 1990. Back in 1983, the album amazed many by propelling the blues back into the upper reaches of the charts.
Toe-tapping opener Love Struck Baby sets the template for the mixture of sprightly blues and mellifluous fretwork that is to follow. The brawny twelve-bar Pride and Joy uncannily sounds like it is by one of Vaughan’s Delta heroes but, like half the material here, derives from his own fair hand.
Texas Flood, a Larry Davis cover, emphasises more than any other cut how Vaughan’s distinctive axework is rooted in the old traditions of the blues but simultaneously informed by the space age in its flashiness and razor edge.
The Howlin’ Wolf number Tell Me is given a marching pace. Vaughan steps up the briskness of his fretwork accordingly – and dazzlingly. Instrumental Testify is another cover (Isley Brothers), one so quick-fire that it sounds like the tape’s running out.
Just when you think Vaughan’s wrist can’t display any further suppleness, we have Rude Mood, an instrumental of his own so high-velocity it’s hard to see it. During its respites, his Double Trouble colleagues get rare look-ins.
Dirty Pool is a slightly spooky variation on the formula. Another instrumental, Lenny, is a bit more restrained and delicate, if no less virtuoso.
A Philadelphia live performance from the year of the album’s release makes up the bonus disc. Vaughan doesn't disgrace himself on the Jimi Hendrix covers, but does remind us that Hendrix used the blues as a springboard to a whole musical universe of little apparent interest to Vaughan.
Indeed, the album’s dogged devotion to the blues may make some complain of inordinately narrow margins. Moreover, it’s difficult to shake the feeling of songs sometimes serving little purpose other than that of exhaustingly showcasing Vaughan’s guitar prowess.
However, few can doubt the sheer musical brilliance on display. Vaughan’s retooling of the blues made it relevant to a new generation.