Dave Alvin “Eleven Eleven”

Today’s Cool Album of the Day (#471 in the Series) is Dave Alvin, Eleven Eleven  (YepRock Records)

December 8th 2009, Dave Alvin & Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys shared a bill together in Los Angeles, California.  Wilson from the nearby suburb of Hawthorne and Alvin from the equally working class town of Downey were both products and interpreters of the “California Dream” and the idealistic mythology of the golden state in the late fifties, sixties, and on into the seventies.

While both artists may have helped to create the mythological western vibe, Brian Wilson’s world consisted of surfing, riding around in woodies, and going to the hop on weekends.  Alvin’s world is definitely less utopian and more “Gypsy’s, Tramps and Thieves,” than “God Only Knows” or “Little Deuce Coup.”

That night the California dream was at once mythologized with uplifting harmonies, and love gone right anthems quickly debunked with the local hangout having burned down years ago and the homecoming queen with two kids and a crack addiction. Welcome to the Tom Waits meets Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino world of Dave Alvin.

Dave Alvin formed The Blasters with his brother Phil in 1979.  The band receiving a lot of critical acclaim never really achieved main stream success.  Their sound was hard to categorize and their live shows that consisted of a mixture of blues, rockabilly, punk rock and country were “set your hair on fire” exciting, foot-stomping affairs that took no prisoners. The song “American Music” from their eponymous album of the same name perfectly described the style, sound, and mission statement of the band in 2:08 of blistering Rock & Roll.                                                                             

” We got the Louisiana boogie and the delta blues, We got the country swinging and the rockabilly too.  We got jazz country western and Chicago blues.  It’s the greatest music that you ever knew.  It’s the greatest music that you ever knew.  It’s American Music. ” 

In the early 80’s if  the words “critically acclaimed” were used before your band name that meant you received 4.5 stars in the Rolling Stone music review section but achieved very limited album sales and were forced to consistently tour up to 250 days a year to scratch out a living. In an effort to get rid of the title of “The Best Band That Nobody Knows About” and to escape from the sibling rivalry that was beginning to develop over the future direction of the band, Dave left to embark on a solo career in 1986.

While not entirely ignoring his psychobilly roots Dave Alvin’s solo era reflects a performer that is coming into his own as an artist and as a songwriter in the John Prine, Tom Waits, Guy Clark mold.  The horse “Jack Daniels” timber of his voice goes down smooth as he mixes his California landscapes with honkytonk piano, a blistering fender Stratocaster, atmospheric interludes, along with lyrics that will make your eyes bleed.  In other words simply a more mature and evolved version of The Blasters.

Eleven Eleven, released in June of 2011, is Dave Alvin’s 13th solo album and quite possibly his best. In the 11 songs presented here he strays a bit from his “California Noir” themed songs in favor of more “Americana” working man novellas with a travelling theme and a cast of characters right out of a Cormac McCarthy novel.   So grab your smokes and a bottle of Jack and let’s take a road trip across America, Dave Alvin Style.

Our journey begins in Kentucky along the “Harlan County Line”, “Another Morning another motel bed/ another  city waiting up ahead/ light another menthol clear my mind”, where we seem to have journeyed  to find a lost love whose mother was full blooded Cherokee and father was a union man down in the mine.  She left leaving a note with her number and saying that if we were ever across the Harlan County Line to give her a call.  The rhythmic drumming and the wailing guitar seem to propel us down the highway at something more than the suggested speed limit.  All would be good except for the fact that we lost her phone number.

By the time the second song starts we are on our way back to California by way of Houston.  Hearing about the great music in the area we decide to stop at the City Auditorium to listen to some music.  Apparently Dave’s car is equipped with a” way back” time machine and we are listening to pre-Russian roulette Johnny Ace.  The song, another up tempo number introduces us to Johnny Ace the” prince of the blues”, in his shark skin suit and alligator shoes.  Unfortunately, Big Mama Thornton’s advice to put that damn thing down before something goes wrong went unheeded as he smiled at the ladies and “Johnny Ace is Dead”.

In a Thelma and Louise escape it was time to get back on the road.  The pace slows down a bit with “The Black Rose of Texas” where we settle into some night driving with Dave’s strong baritone with some subtle acoustic based guitar work calming our frayed nerves with a few stops along the way at “the honkytonks and punk rock bars sometimes it felt good to be alive”.

I have one word of advice when embarking on a road trip with Dave Alvin.  Don’t fall asleep.  After the third honkytonk and the second punk rock bar, we were back in the car where I woke up to the sign that read “Gary Indiana, 1959”.  A welcome detour along our route, the fourth song on the album is a sober reminder of the impact of lives effected by factory closings and lost jobs.  The honkytonk piano side by side with some heavy guitar licks gives the song an eerie retrospective feel.

At this point I decided it was time to take the wheel otherwise we would never make it to Los Angeles, It was on I-10 100 miles outside of El Paso that Dave told me about Conejo.  I was not sure who Conejo was but I was quite sure I would be afraid of him if I ever met him, and on the fifth song of the album I heard his story.  It seems among other adventures,” he boxed lightweight at the Olympic in  down and dirty old La and he earned his golden g loves by putting sixteen fighters away, the 17th one nailed him and blinded his left eye, so with busted fingers and a battered brain he kissed the ring goodbye.”  “Run Canejo Run”.

In “No Worries Mija” Dave gets very quiet and tells me the real reason for the unscheduled stop at the El Paso border. “No worries Mija everything will be fine, I’m going to make us some money doing a drive across the border line, it’s a favor for a friend and it shouldn’t take much time.”  I probably should have been more nervous than I was as I had never been a drug mule before but somehow the mariachi style accordion and the soothing timber of Dave’s voice on this track served to calm my troubled soul.

Finally by the seventh song, fueled with Jack, cigarettes and going on 72 hours with no sleep, I finally get the courage to ask Dave “What’s Up With Your Brother?” He had never really spoken about the circumstances surrounding the split with his brother Phil.  We get a little bit of a window into this world with an angry sounding harmonica guitar driven tour de force that ends with Phil telling Dave “I’ll see you at Thanksgiving”.  Is all well? I am not sure. What I do know is that while the angst between the two brothers might not match the sibling feud going on with Ray and Dave Davies, there is an unmistakable edge and venom to this song.

By the time the eighth and ninth songs roll around my brain is being bombarded with stories about the towns, fields, and counties that we are passing including the story of the bounty on “Murietta’s Head” and the posse that was formed to track him down one minute and his reminiscing about a former love “Manzanita” that he is reminded of with a lap steel and seeing the flowers on a hillside. Everything’s a story with this guy.

Eleven Eleven "Goodies"

The end of the journey is near and we are tired and decide to stop in Nevada for an overnight stay.  Dave decides to get down and dirty here with ‘Dirty Nightgown’.  I am not at liberty to describe what went on behind these closed doors, listen to the song and we’ll just say what goes on at The Bunny Ranch Stays at The Bunny Ranch.

Finally, as we pull into Los Angeles the road trip is coming to an end on the Les Paul inspired “Two Lucky Bums”.

“Two lucky bums doing what we do.  Sitting in a bar knocking back a few. Taking life as it comes. Two Lucky Bums  Aint got much sense aint got much dough.  Ain’t too good looking but somehow you know We’ve had our share of fun Two Lucky Bums. “              

A jaunty little feel good melody that is a sharp contrast to the hard scrapple world we have just left out on the highway. In the end we are reminded that life may serve up a few ups and downs, there may be a few unscheduled detours along the way but in the end were are just “Two Lucky Bums”

— Walt Falconer

Here’s some information on a deluxe version to be released on April, 17th.

*A unique slip-case hardcover box containing all three CDs and the DVD

*The original Eleven Eleven album on digipak CD

*A second CD featuring 9 songs recorded live on the official Eleven Eleven US Tour at the Ark in Ann Arbor, MI on July 2, 2011 including Dave’s classic songs “Fourth of July,” “Out Of Control” (see full tracklisting HERE)

*A bonus CD including 3 unreleased bonus tracks from the original Eleven Elevenrecording session, including “Never Trust A Woman” (duet with Candye Kane), “Signal Hill,” and “Beautiful City ‘Cross the River” which was written exclusively for an episode of FX’s hit television show “Justified”

*A DVD [NTSC] of live performance footage featuring Dave Alvin and The Guilty Ones live at The Ark in Ann Arbor, MI including a live performance of “Abilene”(see full tracklisting HERE)

Track Listing

  1. Harlan County Line (Alvin) – 5:11
  2. Johnny Ace Is Dead (Alvin) – 4:26
  3. Black Rose of Texas (Alvin) – 4:52
  4. Gary, Indiana 1959 (Alvin)  – 4:05
  5. Run Conejo Run (Alvin)  – 4:52
  6. No Worries Mija (Alvin, Gaffney) – 3:35
  7. What’s Up with Your Brother? (Alvin) – 4:43
  8. Murrietta’s Head (Alvin) – 5:58
  9. Manzanita (Alvin, McWilson) – 4:08
  10. Dirty Nightgown (Alvin) – 5:18
  11. Two Lucky Bums (Alvin) – 2:27

Personnel

  • Dave Alvin –  Guitar, Vocals
  • Phil Alvin –  Vocals
  • Gregory Boaz – Bass
  • Chris Gaffney – Accordion, Vocals
  • JBob Glaub – Bass, Percussion
  • Don Heffington – Drums, Percussion, Timbales
  • David Jackson – Accordion, Bass
  • Greg Leisz – Baritone, Guitar, Lap Steel Guitar
  • Christy McWilson – Piano, Vocals
  • Steve Mugalian – Drums, Percussion
  • Danny Ott –  Guitar, Slide Guitar, Vocals
  • Wyman Reese -Organ, Piano

Links

1 Comment

  1. Emily (06 Jan 2012, 9:49)
    Reply

    Loved this! Had to listen twice and then ordered it from amazon. He reminded me of Tom Waits crossed with Ray Benson. Put this on my favorite albumx of 2011.



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