CD Review: Various Artists Keep Your Soul: A Tribute to Doug Sahm (Vanguard)

Wow, where does the time go? It’s hard to believe that the great Texas/Americana singer-songwriter-bandleader Doug Sahm has been dead for 10 years now. This fine tribute album was put together mainly by fellow Texan and longtime Warner Bros.
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Wow, where does the time go? It’s hard to believe that the great Texas/Americana singer-songwriter-bandleader Doug Sahm has been dead for 10 years now. This fine tribute album was put together mainly by fellow Texan and longtime Warner Bros. Records stalwart Bill Bentley, along with fellow executive producers Stephen Brower, David Katznelson and Doug’s son Shawn (who also closes the disc with a nice version of one of his dad’s biggest hits, “Mendocino”), and though all of the 14 tracks here feature different artists (and nearly as many producers and studios), Sahm’s songwriting and spirit courses through it all like an electric current.

Of course, “hits” are not what Doug Sahm was all about (though, fittingly, “She’s About a Mover” is here in an exciting version featuring singer Little Willie G. and producer/guitarist Ry Cooder—who knows a thing or two about Texas music, too). Sahm’s Sir Douglas Quintet actually hit it big in California in the late ’60s, but his songwriting matured when he went back to Texas and became the fulcrum of the evolving Austin roots-rock scene. He effortlessly blended Tex-Mex, blues, outlaw country and a decidedly Southwestern singer-songwriter sensibility into a distinctive and always appealing package that was more influential than it was popular (though he certainly had successes along the way, too). He was beloved in musician circles, which explains why such a stellar cast would turn out to pay tribute to him on this set.

Favorites? Tough to choose! Alejandro Escvovido offers a tough, rockin’ take on “Too Little Too Late”; Dave Alvin’s version of “Dynamite Woman,” sung as a duet with Danny Ott, is driven by a wonderful pedal steel guitar line by the incomparable Greg Leisz; accordion great Flaco Jimenez pays tribute to his former colleague on “Ta Bueno Compadre (It’s OK Friend),” an infectious slice of border fun; Delbert McClinton tackles Sahm’s autobiographical “Texas Me”; Jimmy Vaughan digs into Sahm’s blues side on “Why, Why, Why”; Austin faves The Gourds romp through “Nuevo Laredo,” while Marcia Ball (fronting “Freda and the Firedogs”) give a classic country treatment to “Be Real.”

I can’t think of better accompaniment for a stiff margarita; high praise indeed!

Must Play: “Too Little Too Late,” “Ta Bueno Compadre”

Producers, engineers and studios are too numerous to list here.