Because Legacy Music has done such splendid work in the archiving and reissuing of the late Stevie Ray Vaughan’s music, The Complete Epic Recordings Collection‘s main selling point is, at least superficially, the inclusion of Live At The El Mocambo previously available only in video form. Packaging this heretofore promotional-only item along with eleven other titles in mini LP sleeves (the bonus tracks from the expanded versions of are here all compiled in one double CD) within a large clam-shell box makes for a sumptuous gift item, but equally importantly, a reminder of what essential contributions the late Texas guitarist made to contemporary blues.
‘A Legend in the Making,” the subtitle of the Toronto Canada concert first released in 1983 (the original LP artwork replicated here), might’ve seemed like hype at the time so close to the release of SRV’s debut album, but it now seems prescient. Beginning with a combination of the workout and warm-up titled “Testify,” the native Texan and Double Trouble conjure a barroom atmosphere before boldly leaping into what became a de rigeur homage to Jim Hendrix in the form of “Voodoo Chile.” Rather than allow cementing the image of Vaughan as poseur, however, the early appearance of this archetypal tune from the deceased icon allows the band to then reaffirm their blues roots authenticity for the remainder of the set.
Shuffling through “Pride & Joy,” the trio evince no less authority than on the preceding or subsequent numbers, suggesting how worldly was their own perception of their music and themselves as credible purveyors of the genre they eventually brought back to a high profile from which it had fallen since the late Sixties boom. Eschewing extended improvisation to speak of, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble exhibit as much discipline as taste as they grind their way through the likes of “Tell Me.” This restrained approach signified their distinction from their often self-indulgent peers across the sea.
By the time “Mary Had A Little Lamb” appears the sound quality as originally recorded over three decades sinks in, clear enough for the sake of an instrumental trio, but begging the question of its recording details, its remastering for the sake of this box and, most importantly, the inclusion of five cuts not on the original vinyl circulation. The comparatively thin but clear mix suits the vintage nature of the music, even as SRV & co., revisit Hendrix via “Little Wing”/”Third Stone from the Sun,” inclusions as important in their own way here as songs by Willie Dixon (“You’ll Be Mine”), John Lee Hooker (“Hug You, Squeeze Yo”) and Lonnie Mack (“Wham!”). The delicate melodicism of Vaughan’s self-composed ode to spouse “Lenny” confirms he, like his revered predecessor, had a fine a touch for a ballad as a barn-burner. In short he was a master of dynamics.
In lieu of Damian Fanelli’s breathlessly effusive essay might well have been a piece devoted to the technical aspects of this box’s compilation and production, if for no other reason than to posit The Complete Epic Recordings Collection closer to a definitive document of the man’s recordings than what it appears in this form, a commercial commemoration of what would’ve been the late guitarist’s sixtieth birthday. That said this set is no less valuable for re-focusing attention on one of the most formidable musicians of the twentieth century as well as comprising an appealing package as cost-effective as it is attractive.