Dave Alvin and the Guilty Men
With his leathery voice full of bluesy, countrified soul, Alvin sounds like he has suffered every broken heart and traveled every cracked highway he sings about. While his last album, King of California (1994), was quiet and acoustic, on his first live solo release he revisits the revved-up intensity of his days as chief songwriter and lead guitarist for the much-missed, roots-rocking, Los Angeles-based band the Blasters. Whether revisiting Blasters’ songs like “Long White Cadillac” and “Jubilee Train” or essaying newly penned laments, including the title tune and “Out in California,” he sings evocatively about characters long on the road and far from home.
A Downey, Calif., native, Alvin also vividly paints the unnatural Southern California landscape where he grew up. “I was born by a river,” he sings in “Dry River,” “but it was paved with cement.” In “Thirty Dollar Room,” he captures the anguish of a man in an airport motel waiting for a woman whose “earring [is] laying on the table/ She said she’ll be right back/ But I get the feeling she’s gone.”
Alvin, the son of a union organizer, lets the ambivalence he feels toward his home state show in a medley of tunes, including Woody Guthrie’s “Do Re Mi” and Chuck Berry’s “Promised Land.” And whether he’s singing about lost souls in dead-end towns or hopeful Dust Bowl emigrants arriving in the West to find not much good and little plenty, Alvin and his sparkling country-blues band—Rick Solem’s piano, Ted Roddy’s freight train harmonica and Greg Leisz’s slide guitar—make the trip worth taking. (High-Tone)