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Welcome but who's it aimed at?,
This review is from: Inlaws And Outlaws (Audio CD)
The world may not know it but it's crying out for a proper career retrospective of Doug Sahm's music. Since his death in 1999 all we've had is the Mercury set, "The Best of Doug Sahm & The Sir Douglas Quintet" (1990). That one was well put together and it does cover the longest period he spent with one record label, but what about all the marvellous stuff that appeared on a veritable plethora of labels both before, and after the Mercury period ('68 to '75) - our hero was still recording excellent tracks right into the nineties.
This set is certainly not the overview that is sorely needed - its brevity and the recording date (1973), tell you that immediately. It's a live set and we're not exactly short of live sets featuring Doug, so, is this only for completists?
Judging by the mix of numbers with the presence of the usual suspects - "Mover", "Rains Came", "Mendocino" - plus several more with which the Doug Sahm fan who doesn't necessarily buy absolutely everything from the man, is likely to be familiar, one wonders whether there's a real market for this album outside of the complete anorak brigade.
But enough negatives, what about the positives? First I should say that for a live session the sound is pretty good. It was recorded for a radio broadcast though that's not always a guarantor of quality. I should say that I'm listening to it on a laptop over headphones so I can only make qualified remarks re the sound. I have listened to the samples several times and purchased & downloaded a number of tracks rather than fork out for the lot. Amazon's notes highlight the fact that David "Fathead" Newman was present on tenor sax. It sounds to me as there was another horn present judging by the fullness of the horn section. There's also a fiddle/violin player who may or may not be Doug himself.
And let me say immediately that if for some reason you don't have those tracks I classified as suspects then this is as good a place to get them as any. Unlike his mate Bob, Doug wasn't into reinvention - once he'd settled on an arrangement for a song, that was it, other than very minor refinements. Given also that his enthusiasm for the material never seemed to wane, later versions of his early hits (or near hits) don't suffer in comparison to the originals.
There are two T-Bone Walker blues included, arguably the number most associated with him, "Stormy Monday" plus the faster walking blues, "Papa ain't salty". Both songs would get recorded on numerous occasions over Doug's career - "Papa ain't salty" had already had an outing in the Atlantic sessions that same year. Many of the big name blues singers including T-Bone himself were fond of re-recording some of their more popular items so Doug was in good company. Both songs benefit from the extra instrumentation but Doug himself also gets to stretch out on blues violin on "Papa ..". At least I assume that's him!
Both "Talk to me" and "I'm glad for your sake" are songs that would usually get classified as blues ballads though the latter also comes close to Louisiana swamp pop in Doug's version. The former would appear again on Doug's 1989 set "Juke Box Music" (also with augmented band) while the latter was on one of the early Mercury albums. Prior to Doug's first recorded take on "I'm glad .." the song had been recorded by a variety of artists across genres ranging from country to gospel and blues (Ray Charles, Dinah Washington). For me this pairing may well be the best two tracks on the set. There is a warmth and fidelity to the roots music that Doug was drawing from which is very impressive. The horn arrangements, probably from Doug himself, suit the material superbly.
Elsewhere, "Wolverton Mountain", a country to pop crossover for Claude King, "Is anybody going to San Antone" from the Atlantic sessions, and the title track all appear elsewhere though Doug and band do full justice to them here. The title track certainly benefits considerably from the horn section and for me is a cut above the version on "Honkey Blues". "Oh, pretty woman" is a new one on me - though I should add that my Sahm music collection is far from complete. It's not the Roy Orbison number of the same name though there are similarities. Both are upbeat numbers with an R&B feel and with prominent guitar. In Doug's case he trades guitar licks with David Newman's sax. I'd not heard a version of "Jambalaya" from Doug before though this is kind of surprising in that it's just the sort of roots classic that one would have expected him to cover. I'd describe the approach on this one as choogling with loads of fiddle. I could well be wrong about the fiddle player being Doug since the player is well to the fore on this one even featuring in the backdrop while Doug is singing.
That leaves one track, "Right or wrong", a Bob Wills number with the mystery "JR" on vocal. Grooves along quite nicely but seems a bit of a luxury to pay for if one's purchasing a Doug Sahm album.
So, am I damning this set with faint praise? I guess the answer has to be yes. The complete Doug Sahm / SDQ nut will buy it but other keen Doug fans who are more concerned with cash flow may feel that there's little new here that warrants handing over dosh, particularly in an age when individual tracks can be downloaded. However for the Sahm novice this could be a good buy in that it contains the main "hits", excellent blues & blues ballads plus a few other, fairly typical Doug tracks.
I feel slightly mean, only awarding four stars, but there are not enough big but previously unheard numbers to warrant that extra star.