Texas Flood / Couldn't Stand the Weather / Soul to Soul / In Step / The Real Deal - Greatest Hits Volume 2 (Epic / Legacy)

A few weeks ago, we published a review (actually a preview) of the new SRV titles. Well, now the actual CDs are in the stores, and aside from a few minor discrepancies in the liner notes, they're better than ever. The discs feature greatly improved sound quality, expanded liner notes, and bonus tracks relative to the actual recording sessions. All four of the original albums feature excerpts of a 1989 interview with Billboard editor, Timothy White, entitled "SRV Speaks." As promised, we're going to go into a little bit more detail about each of the CDs now.

Texas Flood hit the racks in 1983 and took the music world by storm. Not since Jimi Hendrix had anyone played the blues with such intensity & passion. Of all the new remasters, this one benefits the most in terms of sound quality. You'll notice the difference from the first notes of "Love Struck Baby." The cover of Buddy Guy's "Mary Had a Little Lamb" has noticeably more punch, and the tone on "Lenny" (the tender ballad dedicated to his wife at the time, and to many, his reigning moment) is even more breathtaking than before.

As for the bonus tracks, you'll hear SRV talk about the differences between playing from the heart versus playing from the mind, plus a blistering outtake of "Tin Pan Alley" from the whirlwind two-day TF sessions. Unbeknownst to Stevie, the master tape ran out while the song was being recorded, and so it was never released. For the new reissue, rather than keeping this incendiary version of the song in the vaults, they decided to include it with a faded ending. In addition, the new TF includes three live tracks from Los Angeles--"Testify," "Mary Had a Little Lamb" and "Wham!" (revisiting "Testify" in the middle of the song).

Stevie's next album, Couldn't Stand the Weather, was another outstanding effort. Fans loved it, and rightly so. Along with classics like "Cold Shot" and the title track, it paid homage to one of SRV's musical idols, Jimi Hendrix, on Voodoo Chile (Slight Return), and also included the band's first foray into jazz with "Stang's Swang." While the eight tracks that made up the original album didn't have the immediate commercial appeal of Texas Flood, it was clear that the next blues messiah had arrived. This was a talent to be reckoned with.

The bonus tracks start with Stevie talking about Texas music and the blues, and where it comes from. He mentions how the rhythm of Freddie King's "Hideaway" is based on the sound of a train coming down the tracks, and the next thing you hear is a killer version of the song that chugs along like a locomotive. You also get to hear a great cover of Hound Dog Taylor's "Give Me Back My Wig," and early, impromptu versions of "Look at Little Sister" and "Come On (Pt. III)". The latter two songs appeared on 1985's Soul to Soul album in more polished versions.

The extensive sessions that produced Soul to Soul are some of the most sought after recordings for SRV collectors. Not only did they produce concert staples like "Ain't Gone 'N' Give Up on Love" and "Life Without You," but also great tunes like "Change It" and "Say What!" Soul to Soul also saw the addition of Reese Winans on keyboards. One thing that's bound get existing fans in an uproar is the 'new' version of "Life Without You." The last verse of the song (with the lyrics, "the angels have waited for so long, now they have their way") is missing. The original version is still available on the Greatest Hits CD, but the sound quality doesn't have near the depth and realism found on the reissue.

The first two bonus tracks on this disc are especially noteworthy. SRV talks about Jimi Hendrix and how he was a true guitar pioneer, followed by a 13-minute medley of Hendrix's "Little Wing" and "Third Stone From the Sun." Stevie played both songs on several occasions, both onstage and in the studio, but this was the only time in the studio where "Little Wing" segues into "Third Stone." The last bonus track, "Slip Slidin' Slim" is a short instrumental tune that was basically just SRV in the studio "trying to find the right sound."

After Soul to Soul and the ensuing tour, Stevie was in bad shape. The drugs and alcohol that that been such a central part of his life were threatening to kill him. He checked himself into a rehab clinic, and by 1988, he was back on the road with a sense of conviction and determination that was unmatched. His playing was better than ever; and his focus on his work, and life itself, intensified dramatically. In 1989, it was time to go back in the studio. The result was (to many) his strongest effort to date, In Step.

Along with passionate covers of tunes by Willie Dixon, Howlin' Wolf, and Buddy Guy, In Step featured major radio hits like "Crossfire," "Tightrope" and "The House is Rockin'." SRV was in peak form during these sessions, and it's evident throughout the disc. Just listen to the heartfelt emotion and feeling that pours from his Stratocaster on "Rivera Paradise" and you'll hear what I mean.

Of all the new reissues, In Step has the best bonus tracks. SRV tells a great story about the last job he had before venturing into the world of blues guitar, and then the best part-four live tracks from a 1989 appearance in Denver. All but one of these tracks were broadcast as part of Westwood One's 'Superstar Concert Series.' This particular show is one of the most widely bootlegged of all SRV performances, but the sound quality is greatly improved.

"The House is Rockin'" has a longer intro than what was heard on the radio. Fans who have a copy of this show (bootlegged, or the actual radio show) will notice some shoddy editing on the new disc. On the original radio show, SRV asks the audience if they like Buddy Guy, and then launches into a raucous version of "Leave My Girl Alone" (a Buddy Guy tune). On the reissue, it goes into "Let Me Love You Baby" (written by Willie Dixon). It's a minor flaw, but something that the hardcore fans will notice.

However, the last two tracks on the disc more than make up for it. Right after the last notes of "Let Me Love You Baby," Stevie rips into an awesome version of "Texas Flood" that even caught the members of Double Trouble off guard. The CD comes to a close with a show-stopping 13-minute version of "Life Without You." Originally omitted from the radio show, the song is a true SRV classic and ends things on a particularly poignant note.

This brings us to the last disc of the series, The Real Deal: Greatest Hits Volume 2. The Real Deal picks up where the first greatest hits compilation left off, and surpasses it with relative ease. This disc picks up on some of the best album tracks from the entire SRV catalog, plus rarities like "Pipeline" (with Dick Dale), and a smoking live version of "Leave My Girl Alone" (the song previously only appeared on a promo disc serviced to radio stations). The result is a much more comprehensive look at one of the greatest guitarists to ever play the blues.

The only question left to answer now is--which one(s) should you buy? It's easy… All of them. You can't go wrong with any of these discs. Even if you already own the original vinyl or CDs, the greatly improved sound quality and new packaging make it worth every penny you have to spend to upgrade to the new ones.

© 1999 Steve Marshall