Tribute albums are all the rage these days. From Springsteen’s Seeger set and Matthew Sweet’s 60’s songs to Van Morrison’s country twang and Willie Nelson’s Cindy Walker story. There’s Norah Jones newest band The Little Willies, Dr. John’s album of Johnny Mercer songs, a Randy Newman tribute and the half dozen Dylan cover albums that seem to come out every year. Add to that list a new tribute to west coast songwriters by former Blasters guitarist Dave Alvin called “West of the West.”
The principle songwriter for The Blasters and guitarist with X, Alvin has been keen on anything to do with the west coast. Some of his past album titles include “King of California” and “Here in California” and his last cd “Ashgrove” paid tribute to the L.A. night club where Alvin saw many blues artists while growing up. He is also not new to covers albums as his 2000 album “Public Domain” was just what the title implies. “West of the West” features Alvin’s laid back rootsy interpretations of songs by well known artists like Jackson Browne (Redneck Friend), John Fogerty (Don’t Look Now), Tom Waits (Blind Love), Jerry Garcia (Loser), Brian Wilson (Surfer Girl) and Los Lobos (Down by the Riverbed). He also puts the spotlight on lesser known songwriters Blackie Farrell and Jim Ringer.
Alvin’s voice has always been his Achilles’ heel but he has improved dramatically on his most recent albums and has even established his own style of mellow singing/talking that is unlike any other singer these days and makes these covers stand apart from the originals. His electric and acoustic guitar playing and arrangements are impeccable and his own songwriting ranks up there with the artists he covers on this album. Maybe someone will do a tribute to him some day.
Listen for lots of tracks all week from "West of the West" by Dave Alvin on Paul Shugrue's new music show, "Out of the Box" Monday through Thursday from 7pm to 9pm and Saturday from 1pm to 5pm on Public Radio 89.5 WHRV-FM