The Complete Epic Recordings Collection

Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble

Epic / Legacy, 2014

http://www.srvofficial.com

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 11/15/2014

It’s not a coincidence that so many legendary figures in art and politics and other fields have died before their time. It’s part of the mythos; the longer a person hangs around, doing the ordinary things that people inevitably do, the harder it is to view them as extraordinary. Stevie Ray Vaughan was cut down in his prime, four studio albums and one live disc into a seven-year career as a recording artist that would otherwise undoubtedly still be going today.

You know it would, because those years and albums were in fact so extraordinary. Vaughan took it as his personal mission to bring the electric blues back to a wider audience than it was reaching at the time he found his voice in the late 1970s. But he didn’t just deliver guitar-centric blues-rock music, he transformed it, strapping a rocket engine to its sturdy frame and blasting it into the stratosphere.

Vaughan would be remarkable today for his skill alone—chiefly his astonishing ability to play rhythm and lead guitar simultaneously, while also singing—but the real payoff was in what he did with those prodigious skills. His legend was made on the live stage, where he performed his music, and that of his musical idols, with an unsurpassed passion and intensity, supported by one of the tightest backing units ever assembled, the superb Double Trouble.

The Complete Epic Recordings Collection is suitably epic in scope, a 12-disc box set spanning Vaughan’s entire recorded catalog, including his four studio albums (Texas Flood, Couldn’t Stand The Weather, Soul To Soul, and In Step), six live albums (Live Alive and the four posthumous releases In The Beginning, Live At Montreux 1982, Live At Montreux 1985, Live At Carnegie Hallmy_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 , plus the previously unreleased radio broadcast A Legend In The Making—Live At The El Mocambo), augmented by two bonus discs of semi-rare archival material.

The studio albums and previously released live sets are already familiar to most fans, and stand tall as ever. What’s striking in an overview as broad as this one, though, is to observe the growth of the artist over the years. Listening to In The Beginning, in one sense you’re amazed at the gifts that Stevie Vaughan (no Ray yet) and Double Trouble displayed from the start; the guitar god emerges fully formed, as if from the forehead of Zeus, supremely confident and possessing amazing technique.

It also reminds you, though, of the growth that did occur over the decade to come. Vaughan only composed three of the nine songs on ITB, and when he finally steps up to the mike for track three after opening with consecutive instrumentals, his vocals on Eddie Jones’ “They Call Me Guitar Hurricane” lack the confidence and nuance of his later work.

The development of Vaughan as an artist is also highlighted in the combination of his two Montreux sets from 1982 (his coming-out party) and 1985 (the triumphant return). His playing is phenomenal on both sets—his technique on “Dirty Pool” in the first set is over-the-top brilliant—but there’s a notable firmness and fluidity in the second set, where eagerness has been replaced by swagger. And yet, while the ’85 version of “Scuttle Buttin’” is mind-bogglingly spectacular—what is he doing to his guitar??—this version of Jimi Hendrix’s epic guitar workout “Voodoo Chile” isn’t quite there yet; it’s solid and passionate, but not as impressive as either the studio version or later live recordings.

This set also underscores how much keyboardist Reese Wynans added to the mix when he joined drummer Chris Layton and bassist Tommy Shannon in Double Trouble. In addition to adding new depth and texture to the music, he immediately began serving as a musical foil and sparring partner for Vaughan on cuts like the ’85 Montreux rendition of “Mary Had A Little Lamb.”

The two-disc Archives subset is a nice inclusion, collecting bonus tracks and outtakes from the previously released expanded editions of Vaughan’s studio albums and various other collections issued by Epic over the past two decades (chiefly the 1991 outtakes collection The Sky Is Crying). It’s a hodgepodge, of course, of interest primarily to the superfan, but still full of compelling moments.

Viewing the tracklist for this 12-disc set from 30,000 feet, you could bother yourself with trivia such as: just how many versions of “Love Struck Baby” or “Pride And Joy” does one actually need? (This set includes six of each.) Or you could simply acknowledge that there are a handful of artists in the history of popular music whose work is of such sustained high quality that it’s worth seeking out every single track they ever recorded—and Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble is one of them. The Complete Epic Recordings Collection is musical nirvana for the SRV fan, and a landmark set for any fan of top-notch electric blues-rock.

Rating: A

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