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Unfortunately, It Doesn't Wear Well...
on March 27, 2012
Well, as this recording was ramping up toward its release date I was extremely excited to be among its first listeners. I love Dave Alvin and have long admired him all the way back to 1980 when I first discovered the Blasters. It seems like I grew up with him as we're from the same area in SoCal and I've watched him go from from blistering sideman to a pensive, impassioned singer-songwriter and back again (with his work with the Knitters. I've seen him too many times to count and I count him among the best songwriters working today.
Having said that, I bought "11" on its release date and it's been in my shuffle rotation ever since. I gotta say, next to much of his other work, it just doesn't seem to hold up comparatively. Trust me, as a huge fan, I WANT to like it.
For example, on Run Conejo Run, the overt drama in the lyric seems forced to me, almost like a screenwriter on a perilous deadline for a straight-to-dvd B-movie. And Dave has no reason to shy shy away from his singing voice. It's good. It's rough. It's proven. Instead, on much of the record, the listener is forced to suffer a rather dull narrative of half-spoken, half-sung lyrics that left me wanting for more of his great melodies and hooks. And I'm not onboard with the bent towards straight-up blues on this collection of songs. No doubt, he can play the heck out of the blues. I dig it, but it just doesn't translate well on this album. It feels lost.
There are some exceptions, such as "Black Rose of Texas" where he's back in rare form as the singer-songwriter I've come to relish. In fact, I think it's one of the best he's ever penned. Danny Ott's slide guitar is soulful and evokes real emotion. The lyric is truly melancholy and sweet which is when Dave does his best storytelling.
While I'm far from giving up on Dave Alvin because of this record, I'd recommend sampling the album track by track and picking out the few gems on it.