Live Alive

Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble

Epic, 1986

REVIEW BY: Bruce Rusk


Stevie Ray Vaughn's short but stellar career was founded on his phenomenal live shows. In just a decade he was lauded as a guitar god, eventually to be often mentioned in the same breath as his heroes Clapton and Hendrix. In an odd statistic that exemplifies his appeal, his live performances captured (and incessantly rerun) on PBS’ Austin City Limits were the most popular (most watched and most requested) shows on the PBS network for almost three years, to the point where for two entire years they were the anchor shows for their annual pledge drives. Not bad for the boy from Austin to dominate the often stodgy and stiff-shirted world of public broadcasting.

Capturing his live shows was easy, though; he toured constantly. This first major live release was culled from shows at Montreux, Dallas, and his home town of Austin, Texas. The selection of tracks is a good cross-section of Vaughn's varied influences and styles. On his recent studio album, Soul To Soul, he had  expanded his band Double Trouble (Tommy Shannon on bass and Chris Layton on drums) with keyboardist Reese Wynans, which gives the band a bigger sound and more spmy_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 ace to throw some soul and r&b flavor into the mix. Wynans’ contribution buffs up songs like “Look At Little Sister” and the usual spare “Cold Shot” with a more fleshed out and melodic feel. Stevie’s big brother Jimmy (of the Fabulous Thunderbirds) joins in also, adding his own excellent guitar skills to four tracks here.

Hard to say if this is the best of Vaughn’s live releases, but it does include an excellent mix of his original work and some well-chosen covers that offer a broad range of his influences. Stevie’s version of Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” has become a signature piece in his repertoire, and the version here has become a classic, full of passion and fire. It’s both a loving tribute to Hendrix and a unique interpretation involving melding Jimi's psychedelic essence with a taste of Texas shuffle blues. Stevie Wonder's “Superstition” gets a funked-up treatment, Vaughn and Wynan’s dynamic interplay turning the r&b classic into a rocking blues number while still retaining the Motown feel. “I'm Leaving You (Commit A Crime),” “Texas Flood,” and “Willie The Wimp” offer more straightedge classic blues. Throughout, Vaughn's incredible solos pepper the tracks and lengthy jams. The live venue is where Vaughn displays the prowess that had vaulted him into the halls of guitar godhood. His amazing skill makes it sound like the guitar is an extension of himself, not just a hunk of wood and metal. Like with all the greats -- Clapton, Page, Van Halen -- it feels organic and fluid. The lengthy jams are dynamic and inspired, and his excellent band offers him lots of space to stretch out. He breathes fire with a down and dirty solo on “Cold Shot,” then makes his guitar cry on the hangdog blues of “Texas Flood.”

While not a true “live” album in that it encompasses several performances, Live Alive is an excellent showcase of Stevie Ray Vaughn’s work, recorded near the peak of his career. The song selection is great, offering something for blues diehards as well as the casual fan exploring Vaughn’s phenomenal talent for the first time. The performances are exactly what you expect from Stevie and DT -- razor sharp and tight jams from what is possibly the finest modern electric blues band ever to hit a stage.

Rating: A

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© 2008 Bruce Rusk and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Epic, and is used for informational purposes only.