His involuntary musical testament
In Step is Stevie Ray Vaughan's last solo album – specifically with his inseparable Double Trouble - as 15 months after releasing it the singer and guitarist died in a tragic accident. It must be one of the cruelest ironies of fate, because after a lifetime of playing with fire, and countless addictions, SRV had managed to get himself clean for the recording of this album, whose title is a reference to the famous 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.
It is also the best album of his short career, close to his remarkable debut, and the album in which the compositions are stronger, possibly due to the hand of a Doyle Bramhall who shares credit on four songs and who had also just kicked his addiction to alcohol. This is the album's main theme, a theme very much in keeping with his beloved blues, despite being the most musically expansive album of Vaughan's career, with touches of soul, funk and jazz.
Despite the profundity of the album’s main theme, Vaughan knows how to do things with humor and opens the album with a big rocking number - with a nod to Chuck Berry in the solo - the unstoppable The House Is Rockin'. Crossfire is pure soul blues in the style of his beloved Albert King. A King who, by the way, spent several days in the studio to get close to his disciple and, of course, to borrow some money...
Tightrope is a remarkable original R&B composition with two excellent solos, although the first is truly special, with its wonderful cascade of notes, mixed with those expressive silences that only he knew how to place. The sound he achieves here shows that Vaughan was still (incredibly) improving with the passage of time. Lyrically it is one of the most significant on the album, as it also addresses his problem with alcohol: "Walking the tightrope, stepping on my friends, walking the tightrope, was a shame and a sin."
On the B side the theme of his sobriety returns on the funky Wall Of Denial: "We've all had our demons from the garden of white lies, we dress them up, we amuse them by pulling wool over our eyes." Vaughan again sounds fired up on the solos, as if he's battling those same demons. The finale is another of the six-string giant's finest moments, Riviera Paradise, which became, alas, a classy farewell, with his Strat played clean, with wonderful tone, and an exercise in style that shows the guitarist had studied Wes Montgomery as well as Albert King.
The terrible irony of In Step is that ‘his sober album’, the album in which he faced his demons and defeated them, was the last of his career, if we do not count the one he made with his brother Jimmy in 1990, because, due to capricious destiny, the Texan would die not from an overdose like many of his idols but from a helicopter accident. Anyway, beyond its involuntary role as the guitarist's musical testament, In Step is one of the two fundamental albums of his career.