Dave Alvin and The Guilty Men
Hightone HCD 8074
review by Art Menius
OK, come clean with me. How many of you think that Dave Alvin hit his peak with American Music, the 1980 debut by the Blasters that remains a shining moment for both roots rock and neo-rockabilly. It has been up and down and all around since then with his solo career, film score work, production credits, and membership in such regular or ephemeral ensembles as the Knitters, X, and the Pleasure Barons. Over the last three years he’s worked pretty steadily with his group the Guilty Men. Alvin decided, therefore, to showcase his road crew with a live CD, Interstate City. He demonstrates again, as with 1993’s Museum of Heart, that some of his finest work is recent.
Alvin’s vocals approximate the kind of world weary, world aware sincerity that Woody Guthrie epitomized. This gives him the facility to move from style to style, especially on stage, without sacrificing intimacy of delivery or compromising his ability to “sell the song.” Every one sounds as if he wrote it. You can only tell the difference if you already know the songs. Listen to his matter-of-fact, straightforward treatment of Jim Ringer’s “Waiting For the Hard Times To Go,” a Grammy winner for the Nashville Bluegrass Band, building steadily to a climax at the very close. He follows with a Velvet Underground-like rhythm romp on his “Jubilee Train,” which launches an energetic medley with Guthrie’s own “Do-Re-Mi” and “Promised Land,” the Chuck Berry rocker covered by Elvis, the Dead, and a thousand others. That places great demands and stress on his backing band. These Guilty Men pass every test.
From the opening reprise of the Blasters’ wonderful rockabilly “So Long Baby Goodbye” we hear a driving, seasoned rock band that can convincingly render the enthusiasm the song demands. Guitarist Greg Leisz, Gregory Boaz on bass, pianist Rick Solem, and drummer Bobby Lloyd Hicks drive with the heart and power of road musicians, while shifting style with the aplomb of session players. The wonderful Katy Moffatt guests on vocals. The ensemble has the chops to follow the moods and modes of their versatile leader. Alvin moves from rockabilly to rock ‘n’ roll (“Out In California,” co-written with Tom Russell) to brooding, bluesy singer-songwriter (“Interstate City”). The band stays right with him. With “Mister Lee,” a tribute to Alvin’s mentor, Crescent City sax man Lee Allen, the band proves guilty of driving, grinding, sweaty New Orleans R&B. Alvin and his cohorts swing into the set of songs beginning with “Waiting For the Hard Times To Go” and followed by three of Alvin’s compositions with “Romeo’s Escape” concluding the CD.
The song selection on Interstate City strikes a workable compromise of greatest hits, concert favorites including cover songs, and recent material. For all who love Alvin’s dirty-ass rock ‘n’ roll incarnation, Interstate City proves irresistible. The rocking approach provides a much needed focus. Dave Alvin and The Guilty Men serve up deliciously varied music live with verve`