From an Old Guitar
Over the past few years, Dave Alvin’s been busying himself with side projects: a pair of buddy albums with his fellow Blaster and brother Phil, as well as one with Jimmie Dale Gilmore; and a mostly instrumental effort by The Third Mind, a group he put together with members of Camper Van Beethoven, Counting Crows and Better Than Ezra.
But his newest — a collection of rare and unreleased recordings made during 2003-19, mostly at Craig Parker Adams’ Winslow Ct. Studio in Los Angeles — is arguably the best of not just Alvin’s recent offerings but of his entire post-Blasters career.
The original and cover tunes span acoustic and electric; blues and ballads; folk rock and country rock. Yet despite their eclectic nature and having come from different eras, they all hang beautifully together as if by design.
According to Adams, who spoke with Good New Music via email, the 10 songs he was involved with “were done in one-off sessions for whatever individual purpose Dave and his people were working on at that time.”
“When we do full records together (I think Dave and I have done around 14 full records together thus far), Dave books me in blocks of time long enough to do all of the tracking for the record,” Adams continued. “This collection of songs were all individual sessions, from my recollection. That is to say [we] come in, set up, cut the track and ‘See ya later, bye.’ There may be some overdubs and mix adjustments, but basically that is how we did ’em.”
Chris Smither’s “Link of Chain” originally appeared on a 2014 Smither tribute album of the same name, and seems tailor-made for Alvin, whose acoustic guitar is nicely set off by Danny Ott’s slide. Ott spent many years with Costa Mesa’s own Chris Gaffney and the Cold Hard Facts.
The late Gaffney himself contributes accordion to the instrumental “(Variations on Earl Hooker’s) Guitar Rumba.” At five and a half minutes, the song is a tour de force of shifting rhythms and time changes.
“Perdido Street Blues” is another blazing instrumental, featuring Alvin on a 1934 National Steel Duolian and the amazing Greg Leisz on electric lap steel, as well as old Blasters pals John Bazz on standup bass and Gene Taylor on piano. The number was written by pianist Lillian Hardin Armstrong (Louis Armstrong’s second wife) and first recorded in 1926 by clarinetist Johnny Dodds.
One of the standouts in a field of already excellent cuts is “On the Way Downtown,” which also features Gaffney on accordion and originally appeared on a three-disc Peter Case tribute album in 2006.
“[That song] is a complete new mix from the ground up for this particular release,” Adams explained. “I always felt that that one got away from me mixwise for whatever the reason was, and so because two of Dave’s closest friends (who’ve since passed) — Chris Gaffney and Amy Farris — are playing on the track and Peter … is also a close friend, I suggested ‘Why not a fresh mix that is more in line with this collection of tracks?’ ”
But undoubtedly “Old Guitar’s” centerpiece is Marty Robbins’ “Man Walks Among Us,” from the third of his “gunfighter” albums (1963’s “Return of the Gunfighter”). Alvin’s interpretation of Robbins’ tale, which relates an eagle’s warning to fellow desert wildlife, features Southern California singer-songwriter extraordinaire Rick Shea on acoustic guitar and harmony vocals.
“That was such an interesting session, and the way that track/take showed up was just surreal,” Adams offered. “It was as if you blinked and now this is here in the room, and I was just stunned by … their delicate performance. It took me right out to the Mojave.”
1. Link Of Chain
2. Highway 61 Revisited
3. (Variations On Earl Hooker’s) Guitar Rumba
6. Mobile Blue
7. Perdido Street Blues
8. On The Way Downtown
10. Krazy And Ignatz
12. Man Walks Among Us
13. Beautiful City ‘Cross The River
14. Dynamite Woman
15. Who’s Been Here
16. Signal Hill Blues
Total time: 55:00