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‘Blackjack’ Deals a Dark View of Love

When Alvin sings, “There ain’t nothin’ I won’t do for the love of Mary Brown,” he’s doing more than filling out a chorus--he’s distilling the fundamental theme of his music. Like much of his earlier work and several other songs in his new album, “Mary Brown” shows how love can drive someone to act against all reason.

In the past, Alvin has displayed all sides of this tyranny of desire, balancing its tragic consequences with its exuberant and humorous side. On “Blackjack David,” though, he turns away from his soaring rock ‘n’ roll and sticks with folk and blues forms that drive home a dark, dolorous mood.

That makes the album less dimensional than such classics as “Museum of Heart,” but Alvin is still an artist to reckon with. “Mary Brown” illustrates his ability to spin a yarn, and over the course of the collection he creates a gallery of characters victimized by personal betrayal, by the system or by their own inertia, giving them due sympathy without sentimentality.

After six post-Blasters albums, Alvin might be a little stuck for new wrinkles and fresh directions. But even when dutiful rather than driven, he remains one of the folk/roots world’s essential artists.

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