Dave Alvin's transformation from poet laureate of the LA punk-roots revival to grizzled country folkie marks less a decline into middle-age politesse than a reconsideration of what matters to him: the American vernacular of story-songs that starts with the blues, runs through country and discharges in the dirty delta of rock & roll. Early classics "Fourth of July," "White Cadillac" and "Border Radio" had more in common with Woody Guthrie and Merle Haggard than most rock & rollers, which only means his recent Americana statements Public Domain (ancient covers) and Ashgrove (Blues-Folk 101) are trying too hard. Ditto for the new covers album, West of the West, which finds Alvin exerting himself through other singer-songwriter's songs when, frankly, he doesn't have the voice for it. What he does have is a deep catalog, dead-shot guitar skills and one of the most well-oiled blues-based bands still making the rounds.
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