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Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Weird science

Posted By on Wed, Jul 1, 2009 at 12:00 AM

If via some weird science experiment, the wonderful voice of Phil Alvin could've been grafted onto the songwriting brilliance and guitar prowess of Dave Alvin (with possibly the addition of a little more hair on top), Dave Alvin might've been one of the greatest and biggest rock 'n' roll stars of the '80s, if not all time. Of course, given the volatile relationship between the two brothers when all those elements did come together in the Blasters, the experiment may have resulted in one angry, schizophrenic dude.

The guitar-playing Alvin brother lost Chris Gaffney (a fine L.A. songwriter in his own right), a longtime friend and multi-instrumentalist in Alvin's band, the Guilty Men, to cancer last year. So perhaps this new project with the Guilty Women is a catharsis of sorts, if not a variation on a musical "scientific experiment" in its own right. Whatever the case, teaming up with seven female musicians and vocalists — Americana faves Amy Farris, Marcia Ball and Suzy Thompson among them — sure makes for some beautiful noise. A lot of the new group's material sounds like it could be covers of traditional old-timey folk, country and blues, even if a majority of it came from Alvin's own pen.

The album kicks off with a rousing version of "Marie Marie," which also kicked off the Blasters' terrific debut LP — but here it's more like a thrilling country hoedown, complete with fiddles, mandolins and other such stringed instruments. Even though Alvin doesn't have the golden throat bro Phil has, his smooth baritone works great throughout, most notably on the ballad "Anyway" (co-written with Farris), a sharp, insightful take on the end of a love relationship that's, in a word, gorgeous. "Boss of the Blues," meanwhile, sounds like Western swing (it would've fit nicely on Alvin's pal John Doe's most recent disc), though it's actually about the Alvin brothers hanging with Big Joe Turner on Los Angeles' Central Avenue back in the day.

The album ends with two cool covers: a unique six-and-a-half minute take on Tim Hardin's "Don't Make Promises," which might erase any memories the listener has of previous versions, no matter how memorable they may have been; and a splendid, upbeat take on the classic "Que Serà Serà," which, likewise, probably won't make the listener think of Doris Day (or even Sly Stone) for a second. Seriously, as long as he keeps creating material this good — which, of course, is nothing new — Dave Alvin may not be a huge star, but no weird science experiments are necessary.

Dave Alvin & the Guilty Women play Tuesday, July 7, at the Ark, 316 S. Main St., Ann Arbor; 734-761-1451.

Bill Holdship is the music editor of Metro Times Send comments to bholdship@metrotimes.com.

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