Dave Alvin - Blue Blvd

Hightone, 1992

Seeing as Dave wrote songs and played lead guitar for the Blasters, while his brother Phil handled the vocals, you'd think that singing would be his weak spot as a solo artiste; on his first album, "Romeo's Escape", though, he rose above the limitations of his untrained, gravelly voice with a great batch of passionately delivered songs. Here, on his second solo album, he seems to have degenerated into a bargain basement Bruce Springsteen, and his biggest failing is not his singing but his songs.

Alvin's greatest skill is as a short-story songwriter, sketching out lingering images with just a few lines; on "Blue Blvd" he deals too much in generalities, and songs like "Guilty Man" and "Rich Man's Town" have little punch as a result. The second half of the album picks up significantly: "Plastic Rose", "Andersonville" and "Dry River" are all quite memorable, the former including standup bass and a smoky sax solo by Lee Allen of the Blasters. (Other notable guests, for you name-droppers -- who, me? -- include David Hidalgo, Dwight Yoakam, and Katy Moffatt on backing vocals.) "Dry River" avoids the generic rock ghetto by being stripped down to just Dave's acoustic and Greg Leisz's steel guitar. I'm afraid they're not enough to pull this album above a routine roots-rock effort. Save your money and, if you don't have them yet, go buy "Romeo's Escape" or "The Blasters Collection" instead.

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