Big Blues Extravaganza:
The Best of Austin City Limits
Music is often ill-served by television, a medium which accords renown to the loathsome likes of Letterman lickspittle Paul Shaffer. It’s surprising Austin City Limits even exists on TV. Fifteen artists who’ve performed on the no-shuck music forum do tunes on this CD.
The two best are by B.B. King and W.C. Clark, who respectively do "Night Life" and "Ain’t It Funny How Time Slips Away," both compositions by Austin favorite son Willie Nelson. The wistful melancholy of Nelson’s own version is not the tack taken by B.B., who roars out the classic lyric with such verve it becomes a chest-pounding anthem. He opens the song with some fine, fat-toned guitar work and takes a trademark solo as well; his old bud Calvin Owens offers a scorching (and fairly lengthy) trumpet statement.
Austin native Clark is also in fine voice for "Funny How Time Slips Away," and though his pensive singing is at odds with a fairly tactless trumpet solo, it’s still a highlight. (Denny Freeman, most noted for guitar playing, is heard on organ on the Clark cut to good effect.)
Stevie Ray Vaughan’s "Love Struck Baby" (from a 1983 show) is very strong and hot-rods along with the confident attack for which SRV was famous. By contrast, Jimmie Vaughan’s "Six Strings Down" from ’94 sounds processed and safe. Lavelle White sings "I’ve Never Found a Man" with a band that includes the great players Clarence Hollimon, Derek O’Brien, Riley Osborn and Kaz Kazanoff, though she sings perfunctorily
Gatemouth Brown’s "Born In Louisiana" is on the dull side as well. Of the guitar hotshots, Buddy Guy and Albert Collins, Guy (recorded in 1990) sounds like his own worst imitators, while Collins and his eight-piece band (performing "Travellin’ South" on a 1991 program) sound great.
Liner notes say Lightnin’ Hopkins’ 1978 set has loomed large on tapers’ circuits, and it may have — in days of yore. But better is a performance by Keb’ Mo’, who hasn’t an iota of Lightnin’s pedigree but performs a folk-ish "Tell Everybody I Know" with winning, amiable manner (credibly, though probably unintentionally, evoking folk-blues master Mississippi John Hurt) that nowadays is better to the ear than hearing Lightnin’ reiterate "Rock Me Baby" while diddling around with a wah-wah pedal!
Other artists on this compilation are (in rough order as to the strength of their selections) the Neville Brothers, Taj Mahal, Rory Block, Dr. John and Delbert McClinton.
The songs by Lightnin’ Hopkins and Buddy Guy are unrepresentative of their body of (largely) good works, but the selections by the others show their overall worth with a clarity that makes this an uncommonly recommendable (and revealing!) compilation.
— Tim Schuller