Recorded live in August of 2001 in Santa Barbara and in January of 2002 in Pasadena, Dave Alvin's album comes by its title honestly. As live albums tend to be, it's a curious mix of the familiar and the obscure; concerts always have to offer the hits and standbys, but they also offer the performers a chance to play old and unfamiliar songs that hold a personal significance. Thus, listeners get rawboned performances of the inevitable "Fourth of July" (an Alvin composition recorded more famously by X, of which he was a member for a while) and "American Music" (recorded more famously by the Blasters, the band with which he made his breakthrough albums in the 1980s), along with a lascivious old Bo Carter blues, the Bo Diddley classic "Who Do You Love" (here performed in a medley with another old Blasters tune, "Little Honey") and the hoariest of old blues-rock chestnuts, "Don't Let Your Deal Go Down." The album's finest moment is a stunningly beautiful rendition of Alvin's "Abilene," which is beautiful in large part because the other bandmembers pitch in on vocals -- Alvin is a fine guitarist and an even better songwriter, but he's no kind of singer. At the very end, there is a hidden track; an audience member calls for "Freebird" in an ironic tone of voice, and Alvin responds, "What, you think we can't play that?" With that, the band rips into "Freebird" with a (mercifully brief) vengeance. It's the perfect ending to a very impressive album.
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As a full-time road warrior, it's no surprise that Alvin's confluence of music, philosophy and work ethic is captured so vividly on these live recordings. Steeped in rock, blues, folk, and country, Alvin's decidedly non-Hollywood California viewpoint is born from the grit of a working man's life, and fueled by the endless miles in between countless road gigs.
These thirteen titles are drawn from Alvin's earliest work with the Blasters and X, solo albums (including a generous helping from his 1991 debut), recent public domain recordings, and a newly penned saga, ''Highway 99.'' Highlights include ''Blue Boulevard,'' Alvin's riveting homage to an influential, music-loving cousin, and a smokin' piano and guitar-driven cover of Bo Diddley's ''Who Do You Love.'' An acoustic cover of Bo Carter's ''All 'Round Man'' and an electric stab at Little Walter's ''Everything's Gonna Be Alright'' show off two sides of Alvin's blues. Grace notes invoke Link Wray, Bruce Channel, and Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Whether fronting the Guilty Men in electric club performances, or a smaller acoustic group at a Pasadena church, Alvin puts across his lyrics with incredible conviction. The spontaneity of live performance reveals additional details of his songs, as if their studio incarnations were drawn as maps to the road ahead.