Perhaps best known for his incomparable axe work with X and The Blasters, Dave Alvin’s Hightone Records compilation chronicles the solo talents of this Grammy Award winning artist. From the bare acoustic roots of “Dry River” to the Bakersfield twang of “Haley’s Comet” (complete with backing vocals by Dwight Yoakam, The Hightone Years captures the magic that can happen when a label truly believes in an artist.
As a musician, Dave Alvin’s sound was developed through an invested interest in roots, early R&B, rock ’n’ roll, and the true soul jerker – the blues. This love of the various styles which moved him makes a category hard to place on Alvin. As a songwriter, he probably has more in common with such working man representatives as Bruce Springsteen and Townes Van Zandt than Bob Dylan or Van Morrison.
These are big names to be placed alongside, particularly for an artist that many people have probably never heard of, but the characters in Alvin’s songs are so well detailed, that we allow an invested interest to grow, and we genuinely care for these people. “Abilene” tells the story of a girl whose hard luck days are so lonesome, that we hope by the last stanza that she’ll find the love she’s looking for in the next town. Or, in the bar room hop of “Wanda and Duane,” where two inseparable lovers find a vast space growing between them in their very own home.
However, it’s not just the characters that Alvin develops so well, it’s also the accompanying imagery. “Fourth of July” and “Thirty Dollar Room” both transform the listener’s surroundings into a new place of detail and feeling. For long time fans of Dave‘s, or for new music fans interested in taking a trip through various styles of the American musical landscape, The Hightone Years is a solid collection; eighteen tracks of a true songwriting treasure.
Best of the Hightone Years is out now on Hightone Records.