As much as he deserves one, late San Antonio native Doug Sahm is a tricky subject for a tribute album. He was a true musical polymath, a master of just about every form of post-WWII popular music, both the big ones — country, blues, rock and roll — as well as more regionally specific genres like conjunto, norteño, Cajun and swamp pop. As such, his distinctive musical personality dominates Keep Your Soul like he was still alive, to the point where only a few of the performers here are able to pay tribute in their own styles instead of his. Nice problem to have, because either way, it's a thrill from start to finish.
Some of the more successful efforts include Little Willie G's (of '60s L.A. Chicano rockers Thee Midnighters) rough-throated rendition of "She's About a Mover" with Ry Cooder on guitar; Jimmie Vaughan's late-night empty-bar blues "Why, Why, Why"; and ex-Afghan Whig Greg Dulli's "You Was For Real," both sneering and nonchalant. Charlie Sexton & the Mystic Knights of the Sea's "You're Doing It Too Hard" comes off as a hard-rocking hybrid of two of Sahm's favorite bands, the Beatles and Thirteenth Floor Elevators, while Los Lobos and Alejandro Escovedo add laid-back Latin swing and gritty glam-rock guitar, respectively, to "It Didn't Even Bring Me Down" and "Too Little Too Late."
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Shawn Sahm's album-closing "Mendocino," meanwhile, channels his dad's groovy-Texas-hippie vibe so uncannily it's hard not to believe in ghosts. But to do that, you'd have to believe that Doug Sahm is truly gone, and Keep Your Soul makes it abundantly clear he's not. Whatever the flavor, beautiful vibrations abound.