Type: Blues with touch of rock
This is Stevie's last studio album with Double Trouble and his first full-length recording after completing rehabilitation for drug and alcohol abuse. It is unfortunate that he didn't get a chance to make more albums with Double Trouble in this style.
In Step marks a change in direction and energy for Stevie. This album has more of a rock feel than any previous Double Trouble album, but that does not mean Stevie neglected the blues in any way. All of the solos are still very blues based, with plenty of his trademark flash and Strat growl, but new songs like "The House is Rockin'" and "Scratch-N-Sniff" reveal a rock and roll energy that did not appear on earlier albums.
A couple of the album's songs reflect Stevie's struggle to get clean. "Tightrope" talks about what life on the edge was like, and how grateful he is for the people who helped him pull back from it. "Wall of Denial" is a call out to others who are suffering from substance abuse, telling them that the way out is through truth, love and facing their fears.
Of course, Stevie makes his obligatory nods to his heroes in three sixties standard blues tunes, Buddy Guy's "Leave My Girl Alone," Willie Dixon's "Let Me Love You Baby" and "Love Me Darlin'" by Howlin' Wolf. The best of these is the Buddy Guy tune, a slow, painful blues about a conversation between a man and his wife's lover. Immediately after that, Stevie rescues us from the depths with a short, staccato instrumental called "Travis Walk," which has a strong zydeco flavor. Uncharacteristic of his style, Stevie plucks almost every note, abandoning his slippery legato style for a brief time. Reese Wynans gets in a fine piano solo in this piece, too.
The crowning achievement of this album comes at the end, in "Riviera Paradise." Arguably the best slow song Stevie ever wrote, it came to replace "Lenny" in concert as his audience address number. He often spoke about the dangers of drugs and alcohol during a quiet pause in the song before launching into the real meat of his solo. Occasionally, he would add emphasis to the song by preceding it with "Voodoo Chile, Slight Return" in concert as well. The contrast between the pyrotechnics of "Voodoo" and the smooth clean jazz of "Paradise" brought the crowd through a wide range of emotions in a short time, as well as showing off his range and technical expertise. Again, Wynans plays an excellent solo to complement Stevie's melodic playing and chord comping. Hints of this song can be heard on live bootlegs as far back as 1982, as well as on the posthumous release "Live at Carnegie Hall," so Stevie obviously worked on it for a long time before he felt he had the right combination.
It is a damn shame we no longer have Stevie's playing to marvel at. When he died, he was still young by blues standards, and this album holds indications that the best was yet to come. Fortunately, there is a fairly large body of legitimate and bootleg recordings out there for us to love.
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