Today’s post will be brief because I’m in the midst of a ten day visit with one of my daughters and her family on the coast of California. Apropos to my location, I’ve been listening to Dave Alvin’s marvelous 2006 album West Of The West. This one had slipped by me until I ran across it a few months ago while digging into the work of Chris Gaffney, about whom I wrote a few weeks ago. Alvin is a fourth generation Californian, and his album is an homage to California bred songwriters who inspired and influenced him.
Dave Alvin – West Of The West
The album begins with a warm rendition of John Stewart’s “California Bloodlines.” Stewart first achieved fame as a member of The Kingston Trio singing on hits such as “Greenback Dollar” and “Where Have All The Flowers Gone” before embarking on a solo career.
Several of the songwriters Alvin features are very well known – Merle Haggard, Jerry Garcia, Jackson Brown, John Fogerty and Brian Wilson. Others are not, but their songs are excellent just the same. All the songs pull you into their stories and characters. In fact Alvin is as much a storyteller as musician, and he’s certainly no slouch in either role. His baritone voice is especially effective in the lower registers, at times giving his delivery a conspiratorial “this is just between us” quality.
A beautiful, mellow folk country vibe as in “California Bloodlines” permeates much of the album with notable exceptions that not only vary the tempo and mood but illustrate Alvin’s somewhat eclectic taste. These include an almost doo wop approach to Brian Wilson’s “Surfer Girl” and a bluesy 1950’s rock ‘n’ roll slow dance, “I Am Bewildered,” with a belly bumpin’ beat punctuated by some hot guitar. According to iTunes’ reviewer the latter song was “written by unsung Los Angeles R&B performer Richard Berry, who was Alvin’s first musical idol.”
Before I leave Dave Alvin, I want to leave you with a live performance of a song from a different album by Dave and The Guilty Women that tells the true tale of a night he and his brother Phil spent driving the streets of LA with their hero Big Joe Turner – “The Boss of the Blues.”