Dave Alvin and The Guilty Women CD - Yep Roc

On Dave Alvin's latest outing, the self-titled debut for his new group, Dave Alvin and The Guilty Women, the former Blasters and X member moves forward by looking backwards. Alvin reflects on music that inspired him as a youngster, examines issues that have plagued his home state of California, and observes how history affects the present and future. The genesis of the project gelled soon after Alvin's friend and musical collaborator Chris Gaffney succumbed to liver cancer, when Alvin enlisted Cindy Cashdollar to assemble a one-off band for a concert, which worked so well Alvin decided to take the ensemble into the studio. The outfit includes multi-instrumentalist Cashdollar, who has backed everyone from Dylan to Asleep At The Wheel; guitarist Nina Gerber, who has supported Nanci Griffith, Eliza Gilkyson and several others; and violin/mandolin player Laurie Lewis, a fiddle champ and producer. The rest of The Guilty Women are vocalist Christy McWilson (Alvin produced her band The Picketts); bassist Sarah Brown, who has toured with Alvin and Billy Bragg; violinist Amy Farris, who has shared stages with Alvin, Alejandro Escovedo and many more; and drummer Lisa Pankratz, who has performed with Rosie Flores, The Derailers, and Alvin.

This is no novelty act: the musicians complement each other in numerous ways, combining country, folk, blues, rock, and New Orleans influences into an unified tapestry. Highlights include the rowdy and electrified folk-blues "California's Burning," a metaphorical anthem concerning the state's annual summer fires; and a poignant duet with McWilson on Tim Hardin's relationship denouement "Don't Make Promises." Among the surprises is the Cajun pedal steel and fiddle arrangement of Alvin's "Marie Marie," reorganized so improbably but impressively that fans of The Blasters might not at first recognize the tale of the pretty girl who catches the eye of a guy on the prowl. Another memorable young woman is profiled during "Downey Girl," a contemplative folk piece on Karen Carpenter, one of the most famous musician's who came from Alvin's hometown. Alvin recalls a time when he heard one of Carpenter's soft-pop hits on the car radio, an epiphany moment that became a meditation on Carpenter's sadness and pain. The quiet passion and emotional intensity of Alvin's soft, stately murmur is echoed by Lewis's and Farris's twinned fiddles.

Alvin switches gears on the uplifting, boogie-woogie drenched "Boss of the Blues," a teenager's 1972 reminiscence about driving through the empty streets of Los Angeles's Central Avenue with one of Alvin's boyhood heroes, blues shouter Big Joe Turner, who once ruled that area's jazz and blues scene. An altogether different musical champion shows up during rambunctious roots-rocker "Nana and Jimi," which flashbacks to when Alvin's mother drove her 12-year-old son out to Hollywood to see Hendrix, "And nothing would ever be the same." Listeners may find the album's closing number the oddest track: a boogie-woogie interpretation of the Doris Day perennial "Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)." Alvin and The Guilty Women give the time-worn tune a good-natured bounce that furnishes a completely distinct and vibrant spin to the song's archetypal summary about life's cyclic journey.

By Doug Simpson




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