Robert Vaughn

among the best

Robert Vaughn and the Dead River Angels (Miramar)
Robert Vaughn and the Dead River Angels

By Allen Howie

Robert Vaughn sings with Robbie Robertson's urgent rasp and Dylan's stubborn phrasing. He writes the way Springsteen used to, calling up memories so vivid you'll think they're your own. And his band, the Dead River Angels, are the loosest, tightest, leanest bunch you've heard in a long, long while.

The eleven songs here alternate between bracing rock and haunting ballads. But it's the smallest touches that give these songs their wings: the banjo that races through the crunch of "River Queen" and "River of Love," the vibro guitar that shivers against the warm wash of the accordion in "4th of July," the rippling piano that glides like a ghost through "Heartbreak & Ecstasy" and the lead guitar that propels "Blue Country."

But mostly, it's Vaughn's haggard, world-weary marvel of a voice, like a bale of barbed wire skidding across a frozen lake, that tricks these songs to life: the overwhelming ache that shoots through tracks like "Upon This Lonesome Sea" and the volcanic passion that boils over in numbers like the bristling "Ride Angel Ride."

Vaughn caps ten stunning originals with a deadly version of John Fogerty's "Have You Ever Seen the Rain" that crawls out of the speakers like a spider closing in on its prey. The bottom line is this: if Blood on the Tracks grabbed you by the throat, if Darkness on the Edge of Town left you slack-jawed and shaken, you should own this record.