Epic / Legacy Records, 1989
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 05/26/1999
It seems like everyone remembers where they were when a major news story breaks, such as the murder of John Kennedy or the car accident that claimed Princess Diana's life.
For music lovers, a similar experience is knowing where they were when they heard that Stevie Ray Vaughan had been killed in a helicopter crash. I had just been awakened by my alarm in college - a day after a powerful tornado levelled an area just a few miles from where the school was. The news station clicked on, and the sketchy details seemed to hint that possibly Eric Clapton had been aboard. Hearing the news that it was Vaughan who had perished didn't lessen the shock, though I was relieved that Clapton was okay.
The memory of his death is still vivid, almost nine years after the fact, and hearing his last studio effort with Double Trouble, In Step, remains the best celebration of Vaughan's life. Recently given the TLC touch with rare tracks and interview segments, though, one has to wonder if the minds behind this otherwise great idea ruined a good thing.
The first album recorded after Vaughan cleaned up from drug and alcohol abuse, it's musically tight and filled with life. From the opening guitar shuffle of "The House Is Rockin'" to the light, jazzy riffs that envelop the listener on "Riviera Paradise," this could well have been the defining moment of Vaughan's career.
In Step will probably forever be known for the track "Crossfire," a song which rightfully made the charts, and is still a song that sends shivers up my spine each time I hear it. While Vaughan's talents on the guitar have always been evident, you can hear him putting his Stratocaster through an intense workout that will undoubtedly leave you, the listener, sweating. It's an emotionally raw, exposed nerve - and it's incredible.
But the best track on In Step may well be "Tightrope", a song which alludes to the demons that Vaughan had faced in his life. Another barn-burner, you can hear the emotion in Vaughan's voice as he bellows out the chorus of this song.
From the original ten tracks on In Step, I have yet to find one track that I don't enjoy listening to. Whether it's the blues shuffle Vaughan was known for on "Wall Of Denial", a jump-like blues on "Let Me Love You Baby", a more traditional blues of "Leave My Girl Alone" or a balls-to-the-wall instrumental like "Travis Walk," simply put, this album kicks ass.
And then, there are the bonus tracks. While I welcomed the opportunity to hear an interview segment featuring Vaughan, I would have preferred to hear something that related to the music on this album instead of how music had been his one job for so long. The remainder of the four new cuts are live tracks recorded in Denver in 1989. They're decent enough, but one wonders why these particular tracks - including "Texas Flood" - were chosen. (After watching the Legends bio of Vaughan, including "Life Without You" and its anti-drug message makes perfect sense.)
It's almost like adding on tracks to a perfect album would be like making an adjustment to the "Mona Lisa" - don't screw with what is stellar already. (The only way I could have really justified putting bonus material on this would have been if they had included the jam on "Sweet Home Chicago" from that show on August 25, 1990. (I don't claim that they have a good quality tape of that in the vaults, but one can always dream.) Somehow, closing this album with the final song that Vaughan played would have been appropriate.
Still, In Step is a great album in and of itself, and the live tracks do add something to the experience - though one wonders if it was absolutely necessary to do so. If you have never purchased In Step, now you have no reason not to.