November 19, 1990 12:00 PM

The Vaughan Brothers

With Stevie Ray Vaughan’s untimely death in a helicopter crash in August, his record company is no doubt gearing up to re-release some of his old albums. (A live album culled from some of his last blistering shows would be the real treat.) Until then, Stevie’s last studio licks are preserved here in a frequently emotional performance with his brother, Jimmie, of the Fabulous Thunderbirds.

That’s not to belittle the contributions of Jimmie, who fuses his lighter blues touch with his younger sibling’s chunkier riffs. In fact Jimmie gets even higher marks as the innovator here, especially on “Hillbillies from Outer Space,” a weird blues-for-Trekkies concoction featuring Jimmie playing a steel guitar that somehow comes out sounding like an organ.

Jimmie, along with producer Nile Rodgers and Jerry Lynn Williams, must also take the blame, however, for the sappy utopian single “Tick Tock,” which wastes some bright, joyful melodies by laying painfully trite lyrics on top (“Everything was clean and pretty and safe for you and me/The worst of enemies became the best of friends”).

While the brothers play splendidly together on most tracks, Stevie’s prowess is often as striking as it was on his best solo work. From the rowdy barn-burner “Long Way from Home” to the Hendrixesque “Telephone Song,” he can take standard blues riffs and give them new life in a rock context.

“Brothers” ends on a humorous note with singer Brenda White-King playing Mama Vaughan by interjecting such comments as “Now you all share!” and “Play nice, now,” while the boys carry on with their six-string dueling. That’s the way we should remember Stevie. Like many great bluesmen, Stevie Ray could always leave us smiling, even as he seemed to be plunging into the depths of his soul. (Epic/Associated)

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