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Reviewed by Tim Stegall, August 8, 2014, Music

Lou Ann Barton The Best! (Rock Beat Records)

Lou Ann Barton originated in Fort Worth, but the veteran blues belter made her name, home, and career in Austin. Likewise, The Best! isn't mere description of this compilation. It's a declaration of artistry. The lovingly assembled career retrospective crowns her the capital's Queen of the Blues by virtue of tremendous lung-power, the vocal equivalent of a Fifties blues guitarist screaming through a busted amp. Inhabiting every song, she's pulled straight from the DNA of Etta James, Big Mama Thornton, and Wanda Jackson, and stood before some of the greatest acts of late 20th century blues: Fabulous Thunderbirds, Roomful of Blues, and Triple Threat, which became Double Trouble shortly before Barton left it to guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan. The cast list for this disc, musician and producer, is astonishing: longtime collaborators Jimmie Vaughan, Derek O'Brien, Denny Freeman, Tommy Shannon, George Rains, plus David "Fathead" Newman, Mac "Dr. John" Rebennack, Jerry Wexler, and the classic Muscle Shoals Sound Studios rhythm section, which played on her ill-fated 1982 Asylum Records LP, Old Enough, produced by Wexler and – of all people – Glenn Frey. The heart of the album front-loads at the very beginning: unreleased demos cut at Wexler's request in 1981, with the classic Vaughan/Keith Ferguson/Fran Christina lineup of ATX's T-Birds. Augmented with Joe Sublett's and Luke McNamee's saxes and Denny Levin's piano, this outfit tears through some choice nuggets: Jimmie Logsdon's rockabilly obscurity "Rocket in My Pocket," Lazy Lester's swamp pop immortal "Sugar Coated Love," the Chantels' doo-wop plea "Maybe." As Vaughan puts it in the liner notes, "She didn't care if the lyrics were written for a man. She didn't care about nothing' 'cept tearing the roof off the club." She tears the head off all five of these demos, and every other track on this disc. It doesn't matter if the songs were originated by Barbara Lynn ("You'll Lose a Good Thing"), Slim Harpo ("Shake Your Hips," "Te Ni Nee Ni Nu"), Ike & Tina Turner ("I Idolize You"), or Faye Adams, whose "Shake a Hand" appears in two different versions. By the time she gets through with them, all have become Lou Ann Barton songs. You'll never want to hear anyone else sing them. "She keeps it raw," Etta James gushes in the liners. "When they write the bible about the best blues singers ... Lou Ann Barton better have her own chapter." ****

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