My introduction to the music of Dave Alvin came several years ago when an old friend in Carlsbad turned me on to him. I already knew of him from the Blasters, but at the time I had no idea he was doing solo work. Since that time, I have heard Alvin grow musically with each successive album.
Albums consisting of covers don't always work out. West of the West does. After listening several times, it seems to me that Alvin has carefully chosen songs that would work for him and played them as though they were his own. Being originally from California, this album speaks to me. Though there were some songs I might have deleted in favor of others, overall Alvin's choices are excellent and his interpretations delightful.
My favorites are a smooth, swinging take on Jackson Browne's Redneck Friend, the bittersweet Here In California, the top-flight music AND storytelling of Sonora's Death Row, a gutsy rendition of Los Lobos' Down On the Riverbed, another swinger with John Fogerty's Don't Look Now, Jerry Garcia's gambler's tale Loser, and the incredible 50s-style take on the Beach Boys classic Surfer Girl.
Reading other reviews, I notice some carping about Dave Alvin's vocal range. Long-time Alvin fans have known about that aspect forever and yet there is a reason his base remains as his legion of fans grows. Its his interpretive ability that keeps us on board and we can hear that his singing has vastly improved since his first solo outings. The industry reviewer says it best and I quote: "Whatever Alvin may lack in vocal range, there's no doubting his interpretive range".
I don't like every song on this CD, but there are none that I hate. If you like Dave Alvin on any level, or are a fan of the singer/songwriter style, do your ears a favor and add West of the West to your CD collection. You'll be glad you did.