It’s hard to imagine a less pretentious or more affable figure in American music today than Jimmie Vaughan. It’s also hard to imagine a collection of songs more refreshing than the ones the good Texan offered on last year’s Blues, Ballads and Favorites. Except, of course, this one. Vaughn returns with 14 hand-selected covers. He claims that he cut the songs as though he were cutting a single –– mostly following the pattern of Side A, then Side B, then calling it a day. Whether that matters to you or not –– it does to this writer –– you can’t help but pick up on that vibe by the end of the album’s opening piece, Webb Pierce’s “I Ain’t Never”, co-written by Pierce and Mel Tillis.
As with its predecessor, Plays More Blues, Ballads and Favorites introduces us to a series of songs we’ve probably never had the pleasure of hearing. There’s the obscure Hank Williams cut “I Hang My Head and Cry”, Nappy Brown’s “Cried Like a Baby”, and Ray Charles’ “Greenbacks”, to name three. There are two from the late Bobby Charles (“No Use Knocking” and “I Ain’t Gonna Do It No More”) and two from the lesser-known Annie Laurie (“It’s Been a Long Time” and “I’m in the Mood for You”).
Vaughan’s life-long friend and collaborator Lou Ann Barton returns to lend a hand (shining especially bright on “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do” and “I’m in the Mood for You”), and her touch is as gentle and unobtrusive as Vaughan’s. As a vocalist, he sounds perfectly relaxed, emoting perfectly throughout, but “What Makes You So Tough” and “It’s Been a Long Time” serve as fine starting points for anyone who wants to better understand the power of the real. There’s also no doubt that Vaughan is a guitar great, but his playing on the aforementioned “Greenbacks” and “Oh Oh Oh” as well as “I Hang My Head and Cry” (which should quickly become a live favorite) is certainly woodshed-inspiring.
Plays More Blues, Ballads and Favorites evokes memories of an era that is long gone, but it also evokes a longing for somewhere that is still within our reach –– a place where the lights are low, the smoke is thick, and the dancing is real slow and real close. This isn’t a record for fans of pop music, or blues, or R&B. It’s a record for anyone who’s ever held a particular song close to their soul and learned to cherish each beat and each rest as though they were one’s own pulse. It also serves to remind us of the sheer gigantic talent of Jimmie Vaughan: a talent large enough that the English language barely contains enough superlatives to place at Vaughan’s formidable feet. He demonstrates here, as he has throughout his career, his full command of American music, but especially that which originates from and near his native Texas — and from close to the heart of America.