If you’re not a fan of the late Stevie Ray Vaughan, nothing about this SRV box set will change your mind. If you are a fan, though, this is the package you’ve been waiting for — Epic/Legacy’s resounding answer to the plethora of Vaughan bootlegs floating around out there on the ’net and elsewhere.
The four-CD SRV set (three audio discs, the fourth a DVD-video) features 36 previously unissued tracks, most of them live. The opening track is a 1977 studio recording of pre-Double Trouble SRV with Paul Ray and the Cobras. What follows, in roughly chronological order, are unissued studio outtakes and live performances from sound checks, concerts and radio and TV performances (Austin City Limits, MTV’s Unplugged), interspersed with previously released studio cuts.
Included are Vaughan’s impassioned covers of his blues guitar heroes: Albert King ("Crosscut Saw"); Guitar Slim ("Letter to My Girlfriend," "Things That I Used to Do") and Buddy Guy ("Let Me Love You Baby," "Mary Had a Little Lamb," "Leave My Girl Alone"). There’s also a hefty dose of Jimi Hendrix material, including "Voodoo Chile (A Slight Return)," a 1981 version of "Manic Depression" and an amazing "Little Wing/Third Stone From the Sun" medley from the CBS Records Convention in Honolulu in 1984.
The box set documents Vaughan’s evolution as a guitarist and songwriter. He clearly becomes more focused in his last clean-and-sober years, as demonstrated by the live renditions of "Tightrope," "Crossfire" and others. The audio discs conclude with three cuts from Alpine Valley in East Troy, Wisconsin, on August 25, 1990 — the next-to-last show of Vaughan’s life.
The video disc includes six solid performances from Austin City Limits, tracks that were recorded in October 1989 but never broadcast. There are various reasons why each of the songs was not selected for broadcast (a broken string on one song, for example), but the performances are stellar throughout. Also included is a 72-page hardcover booklet with plenty of color photos and several essays on Vaughan’s life in music.
Epic Records, mostly under the guidance of brother Jimmie Vaughan, has released some engagingly fine material since Stevie Ray’s death in 1990, including The Sky Is Crying, Live at Carnegie Hall and In the Beginning. Much to the frustration of his fans, however, the label has also repackaged previously released material with otherwise unissued "bonus" tracks — e.g., a cover of the Beatles’ "Taxman" on Greatest Hits, and only two new tracks on last year’s Blues at Sunrise — but there’s no such lack of value in this boxed-set release.
SRV is a worthy tribute to Vaughan’s brilliant, tragically short career and to his blues guitar legacy. Newcomers to Vaughan’s work will be best served by starting with the four studio recordings he made during his lifetime (Texas Flood, Couldn’t Stand the Weather, Soul to Soul and In Step), his 1990 Family Style recording with brother Jimmie, and the posthumous The Sky Is Crying, but SRV serves as an excellent complement to that existing body of work.
— Bryan Powell