Dave Alvin & the Guilty Men
Out in California
First Appeared at The Music Box, August 2002, Volume 9, #8
Written by John Metzger
Last year, Dave Alvin won a Grammy Award for his collection of traditional folk songs Public Domain. It’s funny how that works. After all, Alvin has been mining this same territory for decades, having recorded songs by Leadbelly, the Carter Family, and Merle Haggard with The Knitters as well as tunes by Howlin’ Wolf and Willie Dixon with The Blasters. Yet it took an album comprised completely of old standards to get noticed by the powers that be. Go figure.
For his latest project Out in California, Alvin pieced together recordings from a handful of concerts to create a set that spans his career — in terms of both song selection and performance style. On tracks like the explosive Fourth of July, the Johnny Cash-meets-Bo Diddley Out in California, and the roadhouse romp American Music, he and his band ride the stampeding drum beats laid down by Bobby Lloyd Hicks until there is little left to do except collapse from utter exhaustion. Sandwiched within the middle of the set, however, Alvin delves into more acoustic-oriented territory, and without the flashy guitars and raging percussion — phenomenal as they are — the quality of his songwriting comes into better focus. Most notable is the reflective Blue Boulevard, on which Alvin’s remembrance of his cousin is laced with the type of raw, honest emotion that can turn a song into a bond that unites performer and audience. It’s through this type of connection that performances become transcendent, and it demonstrates exactly why Alvin’s fans keep coming back. ½
Out in California is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2002 The Music Box