This celebratory debut release lays testament to the resilient talent of drummer Chris Layton and bassist Tommy Shannon, renowned as Stevie Ray Vaughan’s rhythm section, Double Trouble.
Losing a front person of such mythic proportions may have sent the bandmates of Jimi Hendrix or Jim Morrison into unjustified obscurity. But Double Trouble has transcended circumstance because they refused to be relegated to musical history. Instead, they charted ever-evolving musical explorations in the current context, creating their own new musical history. Forming the Arc Angels, Storyville, and recording and performing with some of music’s most venerable artists, if anything this album is long overdue.
Spirited in nature, Been A Long Time includes a glittering galaxy of guest musicians and vocalists, including the elite of Austin’s guitar pantheon: Jimmie Vaughan, Charlie Sexton, Eric Johnson, Doyle Bramhall II, and Derek O’Brien.
But the dazzling interpretive musicianship of these artists complements the foundation of Double Trouble. Besides being outstanding in their own right, Shannon and Layton are two of the most gifted, soulful songwriters in contemporary blues/rock. With respect to the album’s covers, there’s no denying the crafted songwriting and eloquence of the tracks co-written by Double Trouble. The resolve and emotional urgency is elevated by their guest artists’ articulate translations.
Storyville vocalist Malford Milligan imbues an impassioned soulfulness to “Cry Sky” equaled by Susan Tedeschi’s uplifting blues-drenched vocals on “In The Garden.”
Indeed, though, guitarists seem born to render Double Trouble’s compositions and full-throttle rhythms. A truly gifted guitar player considerably contributing throughout the album (as well as co-producing), Charlie Sexton’s raptured, enfolding melody lines, detailed chord structures, and chime harmonics divine a majestic lyricism to the sublime “Cry Sky” while Eric Johnson’s, Sexton’s, and Tedeschi’s regal voicings and understated phrasing caresses the inspirational “In The Garden.”
Kenny Wayne Shepherd blazes on two guitar solos, and Van Wilks and Derek O’Brien serve up some tasty fretwork. Willie Nelson offers a standout classical guitar solo among the string orchestrated blues standard “Baby, There’s No One Like You” fronted by professor of vocals and piano, Dr. John.
But Shannon, Layton, and friends can burn the blues barn on covers, too.
Jimmie Vaughan and the incomparable Lou Ann Barton exchange the lowdown blues in a playful, sparring vocal interplay countered with Vaughan’s sinfully sizzling six-string blueswork, raising the rafters straight off the roof on Johnny Watson’s “In The Middle Of The Night.”
Doyle Bramhall II offers grittier, modern rock chordwork on several tracks. Gordy Johnson’s playing and penmanship infuses searing, rocking blues roaring alongside Jonny Lang’s earthy vocals on “Ground Hog Day,” resonating ’70s-style Clapton-meets-Allman.
Since most of Been A Long Time‘s “guests” aren’t so much guests, but longtime musical compatriot artists who Shannon and Layton have collaborated with countless times through the years, the genuiness of their camaraderie and collective creative sense transforms the record into more of an open jam session showcasing Double Trouble, their colleagues, and their mutual respect and admiration for one another, shining through in their stellar musicianship.
Significantly, Shannon and Layton continue to embrace their legacy with (and influence of) Stevie Ray Vaughan while finding and defining their own distinct, artistic musical voice with resounding impact.
This review originally appeared in VG‘s Mar. ’01 issue.