Music » Critics' Picks

Dave Alvin and the Guilty Men

Friday, June 18; Off Broadway


Like Richard and Karen Carpenter and Metallica founder James Hetfield, Dave Alvin grew up in the '60s in the middle-class, LA suburb of Downey, California. Given Alvin's musical path, it may has well have been Mars. With his older brother Phil, Alvin spent days scrounging for old country and rockabilly albums and, when he was old enough to make the trip to LA, he worshipped before electric-bluesmen such as T Bone Walker and jump-blues shouters such as Big Joe Turner. The style didn't have a name yet, but the brothers were roots-rockers, you might even say the very first, and the name they gave their band, the Blasters, couldn't have been more on target. The band blew away the overfed and overglammed LA rock scene; they created a space where Los Lobos, X and Dwight Yoakam could rock as one; and they revived, with punkish balls and bad-ass blues chops, the body and soul of American music.

After the Blasters dissolved in the late '80s, Alvin asserted himself as a singer/songwriter without diluting his slash-and-burn Strat style or blunting his rocker's edge. In the '90s he began working in a more acoustic vein and his songwriting became more narrative and revealing. His newest record, Ashgrove, marks a return to a dirtier electric-blues sound, though ballads such as "Nine Volt Heart" (about growing up in love with the radio) and, especially, "Everett Ruess" (about a wilderness advocate who disappeared in a desert canyon) show the gritty poignancy and unpretentious wisdom which have always set him apart.

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