It's been 2 1/2 years since George Thorogood's last album, "Bad to the Bone," and not much has changed. His sixth album, "Maverick" (EMI, ST-17145), offers 11 more rounds of the revved-up roots-rock that the Wilmington guitarist and his Delaware Destroyers have served up so successfully in the past.
There are a few modifications: Jeff Simons' drum sound has taken on that fat, booming quality that every 1985 record is required to have. Hank Carter's saxophone is more up front than before; the tempos are a bit quicker and rockier. Thorogood has written a career record of four original songs on one album.
These are only minor adjustments, though, to the big picture. Thorogood returns once again to familiar sources: Chuck Berry, Carl Perkins, John Lee Hooker, Fats Domino and Johnny Otis. Even his originals are transparent takeoffs on these models. One more time he subjects the songs to his buzzing, jangling guitar and his garage-croaking voice.
It works as well as ever. No one gets as much sound and fury out of one guitar as Thorogood, who slips little fills in between his ringing chords until he sounds like a lead guitarist and rhythm guitarist all in one. There is a self-mocking humor in his voice that recognizes its limitations even as it radiates the contagious joy of the songs. He knocks the dust off even such well-worn songs as Berry's "Memphis, Tennessee" and Otis' "Willie and the Hand Jive" by thickening the guitars, quickening the pace and insisting on fun before history.
Thorogood is at his worst on songs like his own "I Drink Alone," an embarrassing attempt to pretend he's a hard-drinking, hard-bitten bluesman. The contrived accent, the overplayed solos and the anachronistic glorification of alcoholism all come off as silly. The same happens on his "Woman with the Blues."
He's at his best when he doesn't try to be someone else and just relaxes. "Gear Jammer," a wound-up car-dragging song that he wrote, is perfectly suited to his aggressive "let 'er rip" style. He also has the good-humored charm that fits Domino's "What a Price" like a glove.
Pop music usually insists on a new trend every month, so it's curious to find a popular performer who basically releases the same album every couple of years. Though Thorogood doesn't add much that's new to the tradition, he does make the valuable assertion that there are some constants between music and listeners -- that a big beat, a rowdy guitar and a party spirit will provoke pleasure every time out.
Unlike Thorogood, fellow roots rocker Stevie Ray Vaughan is a real virtuoso on the guitar. He can imitate Jimi Hendrix or Buddy Guy or Albert Collins and actually back up such arrogance with his guitar pick. For all his awe-inspiring solos, though, Vaughan doesn't deliver whole songs as enjoyable as those knocked out by his brother Jimmie (of the Fabulous Thunderbirds) or by Thorogood.
Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble's most recent album, "Can't Stand the Weather" (Epic BFE 38734), relies too much on guitar flash and not enough on songs. The blues guitarists that Vaughan so obviously admires made their solos an integral part of the songs, but Vaughan often makes the song a secondary adjunct to the guitar.
This is reinforced by his relentlessly mediocre vocals. Vaughan's vocal instrument is no worse than Thorogood's, but where Thorogood tries to stay within his limits and enjoy the song, Vaughan tries to stretch his voice and overpower the song -- with disastrous results. When he tries to pass himself off as a tough, stylish blues singer on "The Things (That) I Used to Do" or "Tin Pan Alley," not even the best guitar solos can compensate.
For those who like isolated guitar solos, there's a lot here: the galloping rock instrumental, "Scuttle Buttin' "; the fluid runs on the Chicago slow blues, "Tin Pan Alley"; the raucous Texas blues workout of "Honey Bee"; and the swing jazz of "Stang's Swing." The album's low point is a pointless copy of Hendrix's "Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)"; the high point is "Couldn't Stand the Weather," which is solidly anchored in a deep groove by brother Jimmie Vaughan.
Pittsburgh's Norman Nardini & the Tigers released one of the decade's best roots-rock albums, "Eat'n Alive," on the tiny Sutra label in 1981. This year they finally released their first album on a major label, "Norman Nardini & the Tigers" (CBS Associated BFZ 39457) -- and abandoned all the qualities that made their debut album such a pleasure.
They have replaced the loose and joyful frat-rock/blues feel of their first album with a generic hard-rock sound that is as lifeless as it is calculating. A rock march beat has replaced the old syncopation; an arrogance has replaced the humor in Nardini's voice. From the Tommy James & the Shondells cover to the formula lyrics about girls and Saturday nights, this is rock 'n' roll processed through an FM radio report.