Friday, May 29, 2009

Dave Alvin and The Guilty Women

Dave Alvin continues his search for real American music. He doesn’t have to look further than the mirror, because very few musicians are as adept at encompassing all the varied elements that make music that is distinctly American as he is. He has done it the right way he takes the stuff he loves - Blues like Lightnin’ Hopkins, Country like George Jones, R 'n' B like Joe Turner and Rock like Bill Haley - and puts it into a cocktail shaker and makes his own signature drink out of it. It is clearly derivative of his influences, but there is never any doubt that this is indeed Dave Alvin. On his new album he teams up with an all-star, all-girl band that kicks the boys’ asses all over the block. Names like Cindy Cashdollar, Laurie Lewis and Marcia Ball help make up the Guilty Women. It is safe to say if you like Alvin’s post-Blasters work in general then this will not be a stretch for you. The main difference is that there are essentially no electric instruments on the album. Alvin plays acoustic guitars throughout and shares vocal duties with Christy McWilson. The results are a gas. The album swings in a totally authentic way, but is absent some of the show-offiness that is always present on male-centric albums. Maybe I’m imagining that last part, but it sure felt just a little kinder and gentler.

As always the real star of the show is Alvin’s world-class songwriting abilities. Also as usual, my favorites are the ones where he sings about his own musical history. In particular is his memory of driving around with his brother and their hero Big Joe Turner in “Boss Of the Blues,” and his priceless memories of being taken to see Jimi Hendrix in “Nana and Jimi.” What could be cooler than having one of your favorite rock stars tell the story of his Grandma (I assume) taking him to a life-changing Jimi Hendrix concert. They begin the album with a bright rearrangement of the classic “Marie Marie” and ends with a heartfelt version of “Que Sera Sera.” As usual, the listener never feels that Alvin is anything less than completely authentic and one of the true keepers of the flame.

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