The Sir Douglas Quintet wrapped up their contract with Smash/Mercury with 1971's The Return of Doug Salda¤a and around that time they also went their separate ways, leaving Doug Sahm a free agent. News of this eventually worked its way from Texas to New York, where, upon hearing the news, Atlantic co-owner Jerry Wexler immediately signed Sahm to his label, offering the maverick musician a chance to make a freewheeling, star-studded, big-budget record. Sahm and a few friends, notably Augie Meyers and the rhythm section of bassist Jack Barber and drummer George Rains, headed up to New York to cut a record helmed by Wexler and Arif Mardin and featuring Dr. John, Flaco Jimenez, David Bromberg, David "Fathead" Newman, and Bob Dylan as support. They recorded a lot of material -- more than enough for two albums, though only one was initially released as Doug Sahm and Band in early 1973. As the album began its inauspicious run on the charts -- though it was heavily touted, it stalled at 125 on the Billboard charts (on the upside, it's a better showing than any other solo Sahm project, yet that's because no other charted) -- Sahm entered a studio in San Francisco with the usual suspects to cut another round of songs adopting the same sound, yet streamlining it slightly. These, along with some leftovers from And Band, were released toward the end of 1973 as Texas Tornado. And with that, Sahm's career at Atlantic came to an end.
Sahm continued to record, of course, making wonderful music until his death in 1999, but those Atlantic sessions weighed heavily in his discography, since they were the one time that he worked with a big budget and had a real push by a major label. At the time, some critics called this Sahm's sellout, but as the years have passed, this complaint seems a little off the mark, since neither And Band nor Texas Tornado sound like pandering to a wide audience -- they sound as if Sahm seized the opportunity to showcase all sides of his musical skills, indulging in style-specific excursions in ways that he couldn't quite do in the context of the Sir Douglas Quintet and their smaller budgets for Mercury. This is apparent on both the proper albums, but it really comes through on Rhino Handmade's tremendous 2003 release The Genuine Texas Groover. Though it isn't officially billed as "The Complete Atlantic Sessions," it's as close to that as could likely be assembled, containing no less than 19 unreleased tracks (including four alternate takes) along with the two albums over the course of a double-disc, 42-track collection. This isn't combing the vaults for scraps that rabid fans will devour -- these are songs that not only hold their own with the original albums but illuminate them, revealing the depth and breadth of Sahm's musicality. Together, the two albums and outtakes play as a piece, as a gigantic quadruple album, but it's also true that Sahm's music always played as a piece; once he established his sound early on with the Sir Douglas Quintet, he never strayed from it, but rather found ways to elaborate and expand it, often by returning to its roots.
Since he recorded so much music in such a concentrated time for Atlantic, The Genuine Texas Groover illustrates this more than any proper ten- or 12-track album, since it captures both his unique blend of Tex-Mex, blues, rock & roll, country, and folk and the times that he untangled them and did pure blues, country, and folk tunes. In this context, the big-band crooning on "Someday," which sounds so disarming as the second song on Texas Tornado, sounds natural, since there's a context for it, sounding like another aspect of his multi-dimensional musical personality. But it's not just the casual freewheeling eclecticism that makes this music such a joy -- it's the very nature of these big-band, all-star sessions, the very thing that was criticized upon the initial release of And Band. There may be a lot of musicians on these tracks, particularly those 1972 New York sessions that make up the bulk of these two discs, but they never overpower Sahm's personality. Instead, they're celebrating it, fitting into his groove, whether it's Fathead Newman turning out a solo or Dylan lending gloriously ragged harmonies. Everybody is clearly having a good time throughout the sessions, and while the New York sessions are light on Sahm originals, that's part of the glory of the recordings, too, since warhorses like "Hey Good Lookin'" and "Columbus Stockade" are remade in his vision, as are idiosyncratic gems like Lloyd Price's "Chicken and the Bop" and Willie Nelson's semi-autobiographical travelogue "Me and Paul." This is as strong a testament to Sahm's music as the tremendous originals that form Texas Tornado, whose second side alone ranks among his finest writing. This may not be the very best music Doug Sahm ever cut -- his work was so consistent and so much of it excellent that it's as easy to argue for Together After Five, The Return of Doug Salda¤a, Groover's Paradise, or several other LPs as it is for this -- but this easily ranks among his very best, and it holds a special place within his winding discography, particularly in this double-disc incarnation, which is arguably the best place to hear the full range of his musical skills. And that's what makes The Genuine Texas Groover essential, despite it's limited-edition nature, not just for hardcore Sahm fans, but for anybody who loves American music, because it rarely comes better than this. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine