Various Artists

Keep Your Soul: A Tribute to Doug Sahm

(Vanguard)

Tribute albums: We smile, nod, applaud a good cause if one’s attached, take it home, play the first 15 minutes, file, excrete a few years down the road at the multi-family garage sale. And by that point, hey, we’ve forgotten the thing was up there. The family domicile weighs a little less. We fall for it again down the road. The earth goes around the sun.

How, then, can Keep Your Soul elbow a few promising indie discs aside to sit near the top of my Top Ten 2009? The company Doug Sahm kept. Let us never underestimate the man. Shawn Sahm, Doug’s chip off the old block, says Dad always thought in baseball terms. To retire his number, a bracing all-star team takes the field.

Doug Sahm, leader of the Sir Douglas Quartet (Plus Two) (then minus the Plus Two) amongst other acts, stood, sonically very near the Nexus of country, blues and boogie—that odd but crucial shunt where gospel flows into R&B to create soul. Retracers of his path cannot get quite so close as his own footprints; think The Journey to the Center of the Earth and its colorful cast coming up short on Arne Saknussemm’s trail. But they serve up one sizzling platter of pleasurably close shaves.

Little Willie G., armed with not one but two men named Cooder (Ry and Joachim) puts some muscle into “She’s About A Mover.” Alejandro Escovedo surfaces like a Japanese movie monster to scorch the earth with “Too Little Too Late,” notwithstanding the plaintive fiddle struggling to ground him. Dave Alvin can scorch if he so needs, but he’s happy for the warmth of a hopefully-not-too explosive “Dynamite Woman.”

I could stick this into the jukebox and listen all night long. Pay full price for this one. The worthy cause? Try life and blood.