Dave Alvin has been, for some, a hard man to pigeonhole. His résumé includes his founding roots barnstormers the Blasters (recently anthologized on Rhino’s superb two-CD collection Testament ) in the late ’70s. Later, he was a member of both X and that group’s country alter ego, the Knitters. Most recently he’s been a solo artist and respected mainstay of the no depression crowd. And Alvin’s 2000 album Public Domain comprised traditional gems plucked deep from the Americana trove. So is he country? Folk? Bluegrass? R&B? Rockabilly?
Based on this new live set, he’s all that and more. Alvin, backed up by his Guilty Men (right-hand Man: guitar/steel/mandolin whiz Rick Shea), essays his entire career. What emerges is a sound and style as vital, as emotionally resonant, and as memorable as that of Dylan, Springsteen or Steve Earle. Take the twangy wanderlust of “Abilene,” the accordion-fueled heartland optimism of “Fourth Of July” or the old Blasters signature honk-stomp “American Music,” and you’ve got buoyant anthems every bit as memorable as “All Along The Watchtower,” “Born To Run” and “I Feel Alright.” (Speaking of anthems, a hidden track at the end finds the Guilty Men busting a “Free Bird” move.) It’s not just Alvin’s estimable talents as a singer, songwriter and stylist that mark him special (although his deep-blue baritone remains instantly identifiable). Like the aforementioned icons, Alvin’s a collector-synthesist of the keenest sort, the intuitive kind of songwriter who can take his own “Little Honey,” a slice of Bakersfieldian white soul, locate the merest sliver of a connection, and slowly steer it into Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love.” “Yeaahhh, who d’ya love, little honey?” Alvin purrs, his band locking into that perfect jungle throb behind him. That’s pure rock ’n’ roll, folks, and that’s what Alvin is too.
E-mail Fred Mills at firstname.lastname@example.org.