Dave Alvin

West of the West – 2006 (Yep Roc)

Reviewed by Brian Wahlert

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CDs by Dave Alvin

Dave Alvin has chosen to record songs by songwriters either born or raised in California on this album, rather than recording his excellent originals. So listeners are treated to Alvin's interpretations of songs by the likes of Merle Haggard, John Fogerty, Jackson Browne, Brian Wilson and Jerry Garcia.

The album also showcases Alvin's wonderful musical diversity - in fact, the first six songs alternate between largely acoustic folk ballads and smoldering blues. So Alvin starts by singing the laid-back "California Bloodlines " and playing a pretty acoustic guitar, and then quickly switches gears to take a bluesy electric guitar turn on "Redneck Friend." In the hands of a lesser artist, this mixture might seem schizophrenic, but Alvin mixes the styles deftly.

Alvin says, "The best California songs come from the intersection where hopes and reality collide," and no song better captures that crossroads than Kate Wolf's "Here in California," which uses the state's ups and downs as a metaphor for love: "There's no gold, I thought I'd warn you/And the hills turn brown in the summertime."

This is a very good album - highly recommended for its variety of musical styles and sampler of great Golden State songwriting.