Most roots-rockers get so caught up in the sounds and trappings they forget that rock's real roots are its passions. Most songwriters get so caught up in their storytelling that they forget to rock. So you'd be hard-pressed to find someone who tells a great story with such roots-rock power and passion as Dave Alvin did at the Palomino on Saturday.
That's no surprise to anyone who has followed Alvin since he first emerged with the Blasters, the post-punk, roots-inspired Los Angeles band he fronted (and occasionally still does) with his brother Phil. As the Blasters' songwriter, Alvin set high standards of rock storytelling, and he's only gotten better.
Saturday's show didn't suffer at all from the relatively little emphasis given to the older, more familiar Blasters material, as the songs from Alvin's new "Blue Blvd." album are as strong as anything he's ever written. Few writers--song or otherwise--set a scene as vividly as Alvin in his new pieces, whether it's the dying Union soldier of the epic "Andersonville" or the resurrected romance of "Gospel Nights."
The once microphone-shy guitar-slinger has also improved as a singer, now able to convey his tales of unrequited everything with enough vocal power that they didn't get lost in the considerable musical power generated by him and his hot four-piece band, the Guilty Men. The combination of the words and music, drawing on but not slavishly chained to rock 'n' roll, rockabilly, blues and country formulas, make Alvin a rare and valuable figure.