Back in 1983, shortly after Stevie Ray Vaughan released his incredible debut album Texas Flood, the young guitarist hooked up with legendary bluesman Albert King to tape a performance for broadcast by Canadian television. The audio portion of this enormous match-up of talents was originally released on CD in 1999, and reissued again in 2009 featuring new liner notes from Stax Records’ Bill Belmont, and music journalists Lee Hildebrand and Dan Forte.
Fans have long wondered, however, why we've never seen the video footage from this TV broadcast? Well wonder no longer, true believer, as Stax has released a two-disc CD/DVD version of In Session that includes video of that legendary studio concert in its entirety, as well as the original eleven-track compact disc (which is really just seven songs and in-between spoken give-and-take between the two guitarists). We reviewed the In Session CD when it was reissued in 2009, so this review is just going to concern itself with the performance as preserved on the DVD part of the two-disc reissue.
Albert King with Stevie Ray Vaughan
The DVD half of the new In Session features three songs not included on the CD release: a red-hot performance of Albert King's signature song, and biggest Stax hit, "Born Under A Bad Sign;" an equally impressive reading of Stevie Ray's "Texas Flood," from his soon-to-be-released debut album of the same name; and the classic "I’m Gonna Move To The Outskirts Of Town," originally recorded by both Louis Jordan and the great Ray Charles. As the DVD presents the full, unedited performance by King and Vaughan without interruption, the order of the songs differs slightly from the original CD, but no matter...this stuff rocks!
King's "Born Under A Bad Sign" begins with a slow groove, Vaughan providing rhythm while King finger-picks out a mean guitar line, delivering flurries of notes as his fingers fly on the fretboard of his trusty Gibson Flying V. SRV cuts loose with a smoky, low-sling solo, answered in turn by King with a solo that is no less sharp, his large hands banging and pulling at the strings. A lengthy outro features both guitarists swapping solos with magnificent tone and scorching licks. For the blues fan, this performance alone is worth the price of admission.
King tells the story of first meeting "Steve," the two men trading licks as the elder bluesmen talks like a proud father, introducing Vaughan's "Texas Flood" by saying "I gotta find out what Steve's been doing all this time." Vaughan starts the song off with his soulful twang, red-hot fretwork complimented by King's short, dagger-like volleys of razor-sharp notes. King's first solo during the song is full of fragile notes, sparse with a cloudy ambiance, but as SRV acquiesces to a support role, King stands and lets loose with a thunderclap solo, sweat flying off his brow as he lays out the history of the blues. Vaughan jumps to his feet as well, letting go with a torrential solo that maps out the future of the blues.
King asks Vaughan, "do you wanna play some blues?" as they launch into "I’m Gonna Move To The Outskirts Of Town," both guitarists laying down a sultry instrumental intro, swapping leads and laughing, King officially awarding Vaughan his diploma in the blues. King's emotionally-charged vocals are made all the more stark by the song's sparse arrangement and the two men's sobbing guitarplay. As the song rolls along, the solos get bolder and longer, King and Vaughan engaged in a mutual tug-o-war that builds to an explosive climax before dropping back down low into a smoldering groove full of nuance and subtle fretting. The finish brings both men on their feet again, amping up the wattage with a bright, senses-stunning display of six-string pyrotechnics.
Video vs. Audio
Although we've previously discussed the other songs found on In Session in our CD review of the performance, there's something to be said about the visual experience of watching these two great guitarists go at each other like heavyweight prizefighters versus the enjoyment of hearing it on the CD. Vaughan's "Pride and Joy" is a perfect example of this video vs. audio argument. In the hands of these two masters, the already magnificent performance is writ large with stinging solos that bite and chew at the song like a drunken dobie with a fresh hambone. The resulting performance struts like a bantam rooster, both men reveling in the joyous act of making music.
"Matchbox" is a spry little blues tune with a loping rhythm and heartbreak lyrics delivered with soul and emotion by King, his solo here rich and full of gorgeous tone, building on Vaughan's rhythms, effectively turbo-charging the song's conclusion. "Don't Lie To Me" is a R&B houserocker, heavy keyboards providing the rhythmic backbone upon which King and Vaughan embroider their individual machinegun licks. After Vaughan gets after it with a funky solo, King keeps admonishing him with cries of "one more!" as the two guitarists let the bombs fly with their incendiary fretwork.
The Reverend's Bottom Line
In retrospect, it's a bittersweet moment when King tells his young protégé "you're pretty good…but you're going to be better." We've all bought In Session before, many of us buying it twice...but this time you can grab the ultimate version of this amazing guitar summit between two of the greatest six-string talents in the blues, and revel in the thunder and the lightning of these legendary performances in both audio and video, providing a real treat for your senses. (Stax Records, released November 9, 2010)
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