Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Couldn’t Stand the Weather Revisited

A cynic might say that Stevie Ray Vaughan played pretty well for a cokehead. To be fair, an awful lot of players were doing that stuff back during his 80s heyday. Twenty years after his death in a helicopter crash, Vaughan still owns a cult audience, all of whom will want the new double-cd reissue of his wildly popular Couldn’t Stand the Weather album, originally released in 1984. To those not in the Stevie Ray cult, Vaughan is a somewhat lesser figure. Some see him as little more than a generational reference, the one blues musician that the metalheads of the 80s listened to. Another camp views him as a selfish, self-indulgent player, a cautionary tale on wheels for other guitarists. A more balanced view sees him as a talented if erratic soloist who’d finally overcome his demons and achieved true greatness, only to be cut down at the peak of his career. Which encompassed three distinct periods: his early years, trying to establish himself and usually overdoing it in the process; his cocaine period during the early 80s, where he’d sound like a genius one minute and a buffoon the next; and his later, sober years, where he backed off the incessant volleys of notes, chose his spots more judiciously and in so doing refined his sound to embody genuine soul amidst the barrage of sound.

This album was his second, his first to go platinum, from the coke years. Even so, it holds up well – when he’s on, he’s exhilarating, and when he’s not it’s more because he’s trying to sound like someone else (usually Hendrix, whom he never could come close to emulating), not because he’s wired to the point where he’s off his game. The blistering clusters of notes in Scuttle Buttin’ (the reworked version of Lonnie Mack’s Chicken Feed), the understated funk of the title track and the almost shocking intensity of his version of The Things I Used to Do are no less exhilarating today than when they came out. This new repackage also includes several cuts originally included on his late-career collection The Sky Is Crying, as well as two unreleased tracks: a furiously intense version of that Elmore James classic, and a raw but equally blistering romp through the swinging blues Boot Hill (also known as Look on Yonder Wall). Also included is a complete live show from the Spectrum in Montreal on August 17, 1984.

The show is a Wolfgang’s Vault type of deal – it’s pretty good, to the point that it makes you wonder why it’s never been released until now. It follows a definite trajectory, an early peak, a calculated dip and then an upswing with many genuinely transcendent moments. The way he builds a solo on The Things I Used to Do, alternating sustained, anguished bends with maniacal chord-chopping and sizzling flights down the blues scale is a clinic in imagination and good taste. His eerie, Jeff Beck-style winds and bends on the upper registers on Tin Pan Alley, and his unaffectedly pretty Chuck Berry-isms on Love Struck Baby remind how versatile he could be. And on the eight-and-a-half-minute version of Texas Flood, he builds a fire-and-brimstone crescendo, judiciously adding a tinge of distortion to his usually clean-as-a-whistle tone, continuing to wail up and down on his chords even as the last verse kicks in – and then keeps going almost all the way to the turnaround! His bandmates hold it all together. Tommy Shannon was always a better bass player than anyone ever gave him credit for, his casually simmering chordal work on Texas Flood and his jazzy walks on the utterly joyous version of the instrumental Stang’s Swang give Vaughan a perfect stepping-off point, and drummer Chris Layton holds a steady, straight-up rock beat, keeping Vaughan from jumping the rails. Admittedly, there are an awful lot of notes here, but so many of them are exquisite.

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August 12, 2010 Posted by | blues music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments