Soul To Soul

Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble

Epic / Legacy Records, 1985

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


It would be easy to tear apart Soul To Soul, the third effort from Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble, as an album recorded on excesses. Vaughan was admittedly in the throes of a full-blown addiction to drugs and alcohol at the time this disc was recorded, and he was one short step away from bottoming out -- and eventually rebounding before perishing in a helicopter crash in 1990.

It would be easy to write this disc off as the aftereffect of a terrible bender -- as I was fully prepared to do before reaching into the overstuffed "inbox" at the Pierce Memorial Archive. But it would also be inaccurate to do so without giving the music a serious listen. Sure, this disc was not up to the standards that Vaughan and his band had set for themselves -- there's no question about it. But this disc is hardly the recipe for disaster that you might think it is.

After all, isn't this the disc that brought us such classics as "Look At Little Sister," "Lookin' Out The Window" and "Change It"? Isn't this the disc that certified that Vaughan could have just as easily been a killer jazz guitarist? Isn't this the disc that featured "Life Without You," the track that would eventually be the song that Vaughan would use to preach his message of sobriety?

Granted, the solos that Vaughan was cranking out didn't quite have the bite that older tracks seemed to have. If anything, there are times that it almost seems like the volume on Vaughan's guitar tracks was turned down a few notches so that it would blend in with the rhythm track. Tracks like "Say What!" and "You'll Be Mine" don't have the kind of lasting power that other Vaughan compositions had. And, thanks to my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 The Sky Is Crying, the first version of "Empty Arms" has been reduced to a rather half-assed approach to the song. I'll freely admit I thought the version from The Sky Is Crying got seriously overplayed, but I'll gladly take that version over the Soul To Soul version any day.

But there is enough on Soul To Soul to suggest that no matter how drug-addled Vaughan's life might have become, he still knew how to kick things into overdrive when the moment called for it. His cover of "Come On (Part III)" and his bluesy take on "Ain't Gone 'N' Give Up On Love" show that Vaughan still knew what to do with his craft, even if he had fallen prey to some personal demons.

In fact, some of Vaughan's live performances helped to make some of these tracks into classics. I used to have a bootleg tape of Vaughan featuring shows recorded in 1984 and 1986 that highlighted "Lookin' Out The Window" and "Look At Little Sister" performed back to back. The sonic attack of these two songs was incredible - and if you were fortunate enough to hear these performed live, they help to enhance the already-great studio versions.

The remastered CD features two unreleased cuts, including a snippet of an interview Vaughan did in 1989. The brevity of one of the tracks, "Slip Slidin' Slim," can explain why it didn't get released the first time around - then again, it was a solid effort from Vaughan, so we're left to wonder why it wasn't tacked on the end of the album as a bonus. The other track will sound familiar to people, again thanks to The Sky Is Crying. The medley of "Little Wing / Third Stone From The Sun" leaves no doubt that Vaughan was one of the best students of Jimi Hendrix, right down to the unique guitar sound he got from his Stratocaster. Note that this isn't the same version of "Little Wing" that's on The Sky Is Crying, so it's not like you're paying twice for the same track. Just hearing Vaughan's take on "Third Stone From The Sun" should pique your interest.

Vaughan as a jazz guitarist? Listen to "Gone Home," and see how far-fetched an idea it was. Again with the volume turned down on his guitar parts, Vaughan makes a convincing argument that he could have probably mastered any musical genre that was thrown his way, had he only lived long enough to try.

Is Soul To Soul a perfect album? Hardly. But it's also hardly the disaster we've been led to believe it is. Even though it has many strong moments, you could consider this Vaughan's musical cry for help at times. Not counting the in-concert disc Live Alive that would follow this release a year later, Vaughan would answer that cry with what became his final release -- In Step.

Rating: B-

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© 1999 Christopher Thelen 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 / Legacy Records, and is used for informational purposes only.