imitation the highest form of tribute?

Crossfire: A Tribute to Stevie Ray (Triage/Blues Bureau)
various artists

By Allen Howie

Tribute albums work best when they celebrate songs rather than people. Tributes to Doc Pomus and Curtis Mayfield succeeded on the strength of the material and on the ability of the artists involved to put their own personal stamp on the songs without taking anything away from them. The Eagles tribute, while selling in obscene numbers, was more like listening to a really good batch of cover bands do note-for-note versions of their favorites. The result was a record that was mostly redundant -- you might as well buy the original.

While Crossfire: A Tribute to Stevie Ray is clearly an affectionate nod to the late guitarist by a dozen of his talented peers, it suffers from the same problem as the Eagles project -- too many of the songs sound like talented players doing their best impressions of Vaughan. A fun blues collection, to be sure, but not much else.

Half of the vocal numbers feature singer Ron Young, who comes across as a slightly paler version of Vaughan himself. The record would have benefited greatly by pairing a variety of singers with the guitarslingers, and letting the fireworks fly.

That said, Albert Lee's tasty cover of "Empty Arms" trips along nicely, as does Scott Hill's take on "Couldn't Stand the Weather," on which Young sheds his Stevie Ray fetish and finds his own voice. But the record's standout cut -- by far -- is Stanley Jordan's lustrous "Riviera Paradise." By celebrating inventive expression within the confines of the song, Jordan comes closest to paying tribute to the spirit of Vaughan's music -- and his life.