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ALBUM REVIEWS / POP

September 28, 1996|STEVE HOCHMAN

*** Various Artists, "A Tribute to Stevie Ray Vaughan," Epic. Vaughan might have been embarrassed by the concert featuring top blues figures--people who influenced him--playing in his honor last year in his hometown of Austin, Texas, five years after he died in a helicopter crash. But the very fact that such pioneers as B.B. King, Eric Clapton and Bonnie Raitt are featured on this album of concert highlights is itself testimony to Vaughan's lofty standing.

There's no greater tribute for a blues performer than to write a song worthy of B.B. King. And indeed, King's version of "Telephone Song" is the collection's peak, everything that a King performance is supposed to be: taut and biting, yet smooth as silk. Clapton, too, makes the guitar workout of "Ain't Gonna Give Up on Your Love" his own, without losing Vaughan's distinctive Texas flavor.

Vaughan's older brother Jimmie gives "Texas Flood" his trademark guitar sting. Raitt, Dr. John, Buddy Guy and Robert Cray also rise to the occasion in their turns, though the two album-closing jam sessions stray into the kind of indulgence Stevie was downplaying before his death.

But those cuts are carried by the emotional high of the preceding song, Jimmie's "Six Strings Down," a gospel-blues tune evoking the night when "Heaven done called another blues stringer back home." As the principals trade lines and licks, it's as uplifting as it is heartbreaking.

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).

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