NICK CURRAN AND THE NITELIFES
"The Essential Jimmie Vaughan"
Nick Curran won the 2004 W.C. Handy Award for best new blues artist, but the young Maine native is no purist. His new album, "Player," recaptures that transitional period when jump blues were turning into the beginnings of rock 'n' roll, and he fills his songs with the kind of nervous energy and pop hooks that fueled that transformation. Curran surrounds himself with past and present members of the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Roomful of Blues and the Duke Robillard Band and rekindles the excitement those groups ignited on their earliest releases.
Curran has an old man's gruff tenor, and his rambunctious shouts recall Louis Jordan and Hank Ballard. But his guitar picking -- which won him a job as a teenager with Ronnie Dawson -- boasts a youthful exuberance, flinging brisk, melodic lines in every direction. He revives songs by Little Walter, T-Bone Walker, Bobby Bland, Little Richard, Wynonie Harris and even Iggy Pop. But Curran's originals are the biggest surprise, for songs such as "Good Luck," "Come Back" and the title track boast the sort of concise story lines and ear-grabbing choruses that might have been recorded by his long-dead heroes.
The difference between Jimmie Vaughan and his kid brother, Stevie Ray Vaughan, was the difference between Robbie Robertson and Jeff Beck, between Keith Richards and Mick Taylor, between understated rhythmic playing and overstated single-note playing. Jimmie was overshadowed by Stevie Ray, but the older brother's work may well prove to be the more enduring legacy, for it's a model of playing inside a blues groove rather than running roughshod over it.
"The Essential Jimmie Vaughan" might have marshaled the evidence for this argument, but this 16-track, single-disc anthology fails to showcase his finest recordings. There are only two tracks from his 1974-89 glory years with the Fabulous Thunderbirds, in contrast to the eight tracks from Jimmie's underwhelming 1994-2001 solo discs.
To these 10 tracks are added two from the only album by the Vaughan Brothers, one from "A Tribute to Stevie Ray Vaughan," two soundtrack contributions and a previously unreleased, six-minute live version of the New Orleans R&B classic "I Like It Like That." It's not that Jimmie's guitar skills declined but that he increasingly showcased his undernourished vocals.
-- Geoffrey Himes
Appearing Friday at Chevy Chase Ballroom. Also appearing with Jimmie Vaughn on Tuesday at the Birchmere. Vaughn appears Monday at the Rams Head Tavern.* To hear a free Sound Bite from Nick Curran, call Post-Haste at 301-313-2200 and press 8122. To hear Jimmie Vaughn, press 8130. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)