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JIMMIE VAUGHAN Plays More Blues Ballads & Favorites Proper PRPCD083 (2011)

Jimmie Vaughan

If you took no more than a cursory glance at the cover of Jimmie Vaughan's 'Plays More Blues, Ballads & Favorites', you might be forgiven for thinking it's an overlooked Johnny Cash album. For there's Jimmie top to toe in black and partially hidden away behind his dark shades standing opposite his long time vocal partner Lou Ann Barton in similar attire.

And actually there's a connection beyond mere imagery in as much as Jimmie has imperceptibly slipped into a middle aged comfort zone that finds him going back to his R&B roots. But in doing so he's in established his own niche in the vanguard North American Heritage music. Given that the States has to hang on to any scrap of history it can, the blues is the perfect historical bench mark for so much good contemporary music and Jimmie is arguably the best possible guide.

Having done his ground breaking thing with the Fab T Birds and built his own solo career since 1994 by firmly grounding himself in the blues, Jimmie has become the bridge between traditional blues and R&B and its contemporary variant. In truth there's little that is contemporary here other than some stinging solos but Jimmie importance lies in producing and marketing 'old wine in new bottles'. And who better to revisit some classic and obscure covers alike than the retro styled blues man in black?

The answer to that question rings out loud and clear on 16 tracks that sound like an old Texas juke box but without the crackles. In his accompanying release notes Jimmie mentions that when recording; 'I pretend that I'm making 45's'. And in that respect he's nailed down not only some authentic tones, real feel, a retro format and vintage sound, but above all he's blown away the cobwebs and imbued the music of his youth with a fresh vim, vigour and yes damn it, contemporainity.

This should of course come as no surprise to Jimmie's followers who enjoy his rhythmic playing, his subtle changes of tone and his conversational style solos, all of which are in plentiful supply on this album. Jimmie's short, sharp and understated guitar playing is the perfect foil for his expressive vocals and emotive phrasing on 'Cried Like A Baby'.

He adds an emotive wail on 'Oh Oh Oh' and a trademark stinging solo where the space between the notes is so cavernous you can almost read his thought processes about which particular phrase he's going to play. If you love the blue collar metaphors of the blues, the musical lilt, swing, shuffle and sax led honks, you'll love this album as all the elements are in place. But it's an acquired taste and Jimmy has the good sense to vary the material and approach and as such he's able to incorporate ballads into the title without miring the project in overbearing schmlatz

Sir Douglas Quintet's 'The Rains Came' is a case in point, with its mid-number spoken verse and sonorous sax, but Jimmie's voice projection is perfect as he brings personal emotion to bear on the song before another spidery solo. It's the same tone he uses on the earlier 'Its Been A Long Time 'on which another strong vocal performance is matched by the shrillest of tones, suggesting he's using the lightest string gauge imaginable.

Taken in its broadest context 'Plays More Blues, Ballads & Favourites' is like unexpectedly gate crashing your parents blues hop and two songs in you don't really want to leave. But it still takes someone like Jimmie to lead a horse to water as he works his way through 16 tracks that open with a slice of jumping r&b. He quickly moves into an excellent shuffle duet with Lou Ann Barton on 'No Use Knocking', adds some trebly licks on the slow blues 'Teardrop Blues' and leans into the balladic 'I Hang My Head And Cry', which in truth doesn't quite have enough of an emotional pull to fully engage us.

If as Jimmie suggests most of these recording were done quickly and with a sense of spontaneity this is one of the few examples that doesn't quite work.

'It's Been A Long Time' is far better with its combination of Jimmie's excellent vocal phrasing, the telling note repeats and an earthy sax which colour the song, and by the time of the snappily arranged instrumental 'Greenbacks' he's in his element with some fiery guitar/sax interplay.

The only curious thing about this album is that despite her presence on the cover, there's not much of Lou Ann Barton, other than barely a handful of duets of which 'I'm In The Mood For You' and the live closing cut 'Shake A Hand' are the best.

It's doubtful this cd will entice many new fans to Jimmie's retro style, but as an example of good playing, good taste and good time blues, it's hard to beat.


Review by Pete Feenstra

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***** Out of this world | **** Pretty damn fine |
*** OK, approach with caution unless you are a fan |
** Instant bargain bin fodder | * Ugly. Just ugly

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