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Dave Alvin & the Guilty Men
Interstate City,  Hightone Records CD HCD8074, 1996

Aren’t they  all guilty?

Recorded live in Austin, Texas,  Interstate City is vintage Dave Alvin, at once traditional and ruggedly original. This time around, Alvin (ex-Blasters, ex-Knitters, ex-X) fronts the Guilty Men, who alternately charge into straight-out rock’n’roll like the Blasters’ "So Long, Baby, Goodbye," and slow down into moody, introspective pieces like the title track. It’s a fascinatingly ambitious mix, an exploration of a place and time where California dreaming is becoming a dusty, broken reality.

This is also refreshingly immediate music, culled from the three nights of performances over Memorial Day weekend, and arriving in the  Jelly mailbox barely six weeks later. It must have been quite a weekend at the Continental Club, as Alvin and crew romp through a varied catalog of American music. In addition to the straight ahead rock’n’roll you’d expect from Dave Alvin, there’s a loving syncopated boogie-woogie tribute to Lee Allen, the tenor sax man from New Orleans who backed Fats Domino and Professor Longhair, among others. In "Mister Lee" and other tunes, Rick Solem contributes a rousing honky-tonking piano sound that balances Alvin’s guitar flash. It’s also evident in the version of "Long White Cadillac" included here, which slows down the Blasters’ classic to a grinding pace that transforms the song from rockabilly rave-up into roadhouse blues.

What’s most striking about the CD, however, is the thematic unity that emerges from the set. One example is the great medley of Alvin’s "Jubilee Train," Woody Guthrie’s "Do Re Mi," and Chuck Berry’s under-recorded "Promised Land." The train leaves the station with a harmonica intro, complete with clickety-clack drumming. As the tune develops, Alvin sings of various plain folks down on their luck, leaving their respective Hoovervilles, traveling West in the great hopeful migration of the ’30s The hopes are dashed as the song segues into "Do Re Mi," featuring some great group choruses, and before you know it the Berry number cranks the pace back up. The whole piece fits together so marvelously that’s it hard to believe nine minutes elapse before the "Jubilee Train" reprise.

The only weakness in evidence is the weakness of Dave Alvin’s vocals, particularly on the Blasters numbers, where memories of brother Phil’s far more musical tenor force an unfortunate contrast. But this is a quibble - any one who loves the roots of American music that lead to rock’n’roll will really enjoy  Interstate City, one man’s cohesive vision of how it all came together. And don’t get me wrong - this isn’t some musty academic study piece, there’s a lot of house-shaking rock’n’roll on this disk.–  Bill Kuhn


Dave Alvin, guitars, lead vocals; Greg Leisz, electric guitar, lap steel guitar, mandolin; Gregory Boax, bass; Bobby Lloyd Hicks, drums, vocals; Rick Solem, piano, vocals.

of related interest

Phil Alvin

 Un "Sung" Stories, Slash/Warner Bros LP 25481-1, 1986
Speaking of Phil Alvin’s singing and of Sun Ra (as Jason Staczek does elsewhere), here is an album that features both. Also on hand: the Dirty Dozen Brass band. A delightful one-of-a-kind album, issued on LP at the twilight of the vinyl era. Used copies, and even sealed new ones, are relatively easy to find.

Copyright © 1997 Peppercorn Press. All rights reserved.