Dave Alvin is a name best known for his realistic songwriting and incomparable guitar abilities, but it should also be associated with putting together terrific bands. Having played a fundamental role in shaping the unique, throwback sounds of The Blasters for many years, Alvin decided to go the solo route and eventually put together the Guilty Men with his best friend and accordionist, Chris Gaffney. Gaffney passed away last year, and with the wound still fresh, Alvin temporarily traded in his Guilty Men ensemble for an all female group. The resulting band, the Guilty Women, is a righteous blend of country, jazz, rock, and Appalachian gospel.
Opening with a cover of "Marie, Marie,” The Blasters’ classic is given the Guilty Women treatment by turning it into a barnyard stomp of steel guitar and energy. This frolicking approach on the opener appears throughout the album and showcases the excitement with which all of the players are having. No matter the melodic format, Dave always pays homage to his musical influences. The elder respect is not just in the lyrics – "Nana & Jimi" about how seeing the ax-man opening the flood gates changed his life, or a be-bop remembrance of a drive with the "Boss of the Blues" Big Joe Turner during an insightful and reflective moment – but in the style; the gospel feel of “Potter’s Field” is a gorgeous hymnal of true vocal talent.
The release is full of surprises; Christy McWilson takes vocal front and center on "Weight of the World," an album highlight in the lost style of true female country storytelling. Also, the Dave Alvin and Amy Farris co-penned "Anyway" pairs Dave’s calm baritone along with Amy’s high pitched mountain top soul for a duet from same Grand Ole Opry days.
This is in no way a rip-off or a topical shift into new territory; Dave has lived this music. His honesty comes through in his fretwork, without ever wandering away from the context of the Guilty Women. While time will heal all wounds and a return to the Guilty Men is highly anticipated, it’s good to see that Dave has found a group of friends with who share his musical expression. The hope that they explore more roads and mountaintops together is recognized when you place the album down for another continuous spin.
Dave Alvin & the Guilty Women is out now on Yep Roc Records.