In a music world gone astray with false musicians and American Idols, it is comforting to know that the real thing exists. Dave Alvin is the real thing. Mr. Alvin inhabits the exclusive group of gifted American singer-songwriter guitarists, which include the likes of Springsteen, Dylan, and Cash, who tell stories about this big country and its ordinary folks in songs the radio mostly seems to miss.
To be sure, the radio does miss Dave Alvin's material. And we are shortchanged because of it. Mr. Alvin has a deep, resonant voice mellowed by perhaps a few too many cigarettes, is a virtuoso guitarist, and has a wonderful pen for music and lyrics. Mr. Alvin generally delivers excellent CDs ("Public Domain" won a Grammy) and "Ashrgrove" is no exception.
"Ashgrove" is really two CDs in one with its ten cuts shifting back and forth in song style between blues-rock and country-folk. I like both sounds on the CD, but I find the country-folk songs particularly strong musically and lyrically.
In "Rio Grande" Mr. Alvin tells the story of the restless pursuit of a lost love, which, for those that have experienced it know, rolls endlessly like a river to the sea. "Nine Volt Heart" is wonderful song about family life built on the potency of music on the radio. Maybe this is Mr. Alvin gentle reminder that music does matter and can make a difference in the quality of life.
"The Man In The Bed" contemplates the inevitability of growing old from the view of a man whose body fails, but whose mind remains sharp. He thus becomes trapped in his body, trying to convince everyone, including himself, that the person in the bed is an imposter. In "Somewhere In Time," Mr. Alvin muses about the interrelation between thoughts, time and true love and seemingly transforms them into a physical law of nature: even if disconnected for the present moment, they will all reunite at some other instant.
The title track describes the time when American music was polished in live clubs. Ashgrove is a burned down blues club that Mr. Alvin tries to revisit. By bringing us back to Ashgrove, Mr. Alvin also perhaps tries to resurrect music to point that it really does matter. This is an appropriate trip for Mr. Alvin to lead, because his music does matter in this excellent CD.