CD Review of Dave Alvin and the Guilty Women by Dave Alvin and the Guilty Women
Dave Alvin and the Guilty Women: Dave Alvin and the Guilty Women
Recommended if you like
Tom Russell, Joe Ely, Steve Earle
Yep Roc
Dave Alvin and
the Guilty Women:
Dave Alvin and
the Guilty Women

Reviewed by Lee Zimmerman

Americana" is a term that gets bandied about quite a bit these days, and as a result, a lot of artists seem to fit that niche. Some of them may be deserving, and others may aspire, but none have been as integral to its evolution as Dave Alvin. Alvin -- who first made his mark in the Blasters, a group that elevated their blues and bluster to international repute, and later in X, an integral part of L.A.’s seminal punk scene -- has etched an enviable roots-rock reputation through a brilliant series of solo albums rover the past twenty years or so. There are far too many to cite individually – all are simply exceptional – but certainly any Alvin aficionado would be wise to include Romeo’s Escape, King of California, Way of the West and Public Domain: Songs from a Wild Land, his Grammy Award-winning homage to his musical roots.

Dave Alvin and the Guilty Women

The fact is, Alvin’s never forgotten his origins and his affection for his native California. With his latest effort – his first with his new all-star, all-female ensemble the Guilty Women, and the rapid follow-up to Man of Somebody’s Dreams, a various artists compilation produced in tribute to his late friend and bandmate, Chris Gaffney -- he stakes out similar terrain, but imbues it with a distinctive dose of reality. "California’s Burning" underpins the horrors nature often inflicts on those West Coast realms ("If fire don’t get you, we know the mudslides will…"), while the dark and sinewy "These Times We’re Living In" emphasizes the harsh realities of life in modern times. However, the most affecting offerings tap into some poignant musical memories. "Boss of the Blues" tells of his teenage adventures on the streets of his hometown ("Everything was jumping on Central Avenue / When Big Joe Turner was the Boss of the Blues"), while "Nana and Jimi" provides a nostalgic narrative about the concert that changed his life as an impressionable twelve year-old ("I was going to see Jimi / Nothing was ever going to be the same").

Alvin’s current backing band includes an impressive list of collaborators – specifically, vocalist Christy McWilson (who shares lead on several songs), multi-instrumentalists and harmony singers Laurie Lewis and Amy Farris, steel guitar player Cindy Cashdollar, guitarist Nina Gerber, bassist Sarah Brown and drummer Lisa Pankratz. Their rustic arrangements and close-cropped harmonies bring a particularly poignancy to songs like the quiet and tender "Downey Girl," the bittersweet break-up/make-up lament "Anyway" and the forlorn pleas of "Potter’s Field." And when they cap the proceedings with an unexpectedly up-tempo take on "Que Sera, Sera," the band’s barrelhouse blues and rocking refrains erase any trace of Doris Day’s delicate desires.

In short, this is a superb set, one that raises the bar ever higher for Americana wannabes. Under Alvin’s auspices, hymns of the heartland never sounded so sweet.

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