Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble [extended]

  • Texas Flood [Epic, 1983] B
  • Couldn't Stand the Weather [Epic, 1984] B+
  • Soul to Soul [Epic, 1985] B+
  • Live Alive [Epic, 1986] A-
  • In Step [Epic, 1989] A-
  • Family Style [Epic, 1990] ***
  • The Sky Is Crying [Epic, 1991] ***
  • In the Beginning [Epic, 1992] ***
  • Greatest Hits [Epic, 1995] A-
  • Live at Carnegie Hall [Epic, 1997] Neither
  • In Session [Stax, 1999] A-
  • The Real Deal: Greatest Hits, Vol. 2 [Epic/Legacy, 1999] *

See Also:

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Texas Flood [Epic, 1983]
People who think white guitarists with the blues are the essence of rock and roll never fully account for Alvin Lee, not to mention Robin Trower. I think rock and roll's essence inheres in momentum and song form, and find my attention wandering after the kickoff originals "Love Struck Baby" and "Pride and Joy." B

Couldn't Stand the Weather [Epic, 1984]
The problem with guitar virtuosos is that most of them wouldn't know a good musical concept if they tripped over it, which happens just often enough to keep everyone confused. The exception that proves not a damn thing is Jimi Hendrix, the finest guitarist in any idiom ever. Though he comes close sometimes, this Texan ain't Hendrix. But between earned Jimi cover and lyric refreshment, album two is almost everything a reasonable person might hope from him: a roadhouse album with gargantuan sonic imagination. B+

Soul to Soul [Epic, 1985]
All right, all right--he's a great guitarist, and an intermittently commanding vocalist. Unlike most Hendrixites he can step a sharp shuffle, and unlike most Texas boogiemen he's a great guitarist. But he's still not a great or even commanding artist, because the classic album he has in him, Jimi Boogies, keeps getting ruined by installments of Stevie Ray Shows Off. This moves along right nice, especially on side two--until Vaughan elects to close with a long slow soulful one that only gets going with a Hendrix coda. B+

Live Alive [Epic, 1986]
Formally, this is generic live double: four prev unrec tunes, most of the ten remakes a minute or two looser. But Vaughan wasn't made for the studio--live is the only concept he has any feel for. His material blooms with a little weeding, his big throaty moan gathers head under a spotlight, and the dumbfounding legato eloquence of his guitar rolls mightily down his band's expert arena-boogie groove. As a bonus, he ends up by reminding his yahooing Texans about Africa: "I may be white, but I ain't stupid"--vamp, vamp--"and neither are you." A-

In Step [Epic, 1989]
Believe it or not he's writing blues for AA: "Wall of Denial" and "Tightrope" fall into ex-addict jargon like it was natural speech, which for ex-addicts it is. If the music was preachy or wimpy this would be a disaster, but not till I perused the lyric sheet did I even notice where his homilies got their start. Essential that the leadoff "House Is Rockin'" keeps on boogieing on--and that on the mood-jazz closer he escapes the blues undamaged for the first time in his career. A-

Vaughan Brothers: Family Style [Epic, 1990]
dance music from Jimmy and Nile ("White Boots," "Hard To Be") ***

The Sky Is Crying [Epic, 1991]
Elmore James with chops--too many sometimes ("Boot Hill," "Close to You") ***

In the Beginning [Epic, 1992]
live and unfledged, 4/1/81--blues as a barely controllable torrent of electric sound ("Shake for Me," "Tin Pan Alley") ***

Greatest Hits [Epic, 1995]
Vaughan was the greatest traditional guitarist of his generation, his true mentor Jimi Hendrix even if Johnny Copeland and Albert King were hands-on. Like Hendrix he put sound before notes and playing before writing. Hence Live Alive, the perfect place to go with the torrent. But like Hendrix he could do the other stuff too. Here's believing. A-

Live at Carnegie Hall [Epic, 1997] Neither

Albert King with Stevie Ray Vaughan: In Session [Stax, 1999]
About a year later, in October 1984, Vaughan would throw a birthday party at Carnegie Hall with his brother Jimmy, Dr. John, and the Roomful of Blues horns. This was just a Canadian TV taping with the stalwart bluesman, who barely remembered jamming with the skinny young kid in Austin years before. With Vaughan dead (oh right, King too), both these events are now CD-available for keepsake-hungry fans. Rockers always overrated Albert King, whose broad aesthetic was longer on power than definition, but here his presence has a quieting effect on his disciple, who in the end did far more with a closely related aesthetic. And since King is the putative star, we get his repertoire, a big problem with the endless Vaughan reissue program, and his singing, which is stronger than Stevie's. So to my surprise, this is the one to wear around your neck. A-

The Real Deal: Greatest Hits, Vol. 2 [Epic/Legacy, 1999]
shameless reshuffle though it is, it maintains a caught-in-the-act feel for a good hour ("Love Struck Baby," "Leave My Girl Alone [Live]") *