The first artist since Merle Haggard to effectively glamorize California's dusty honky-tonk corridors, Dave Alvin and his roots-rock cohorts The Blasters fused blues and country with a unique back-street punk edge. Like a West Coast Springsteen for the early '90s, Alvin's solo albums showcased his deep, rumbling voice (which sounds remarkably like that of his former collaborator, X's John Doe) and evocatively called up vignettes of hardscrabble Californians, a geographical class of people generally seen as vapid beachcombers or city-slicker miscreants. The cover of Alvin's new live album, Out in California, with longtime backing band The Guilty Men, features a collection of symbols dear to the state: a mission's tower, an orange grove, the state flag's grizzly bear. Highlighting the band's rollicking technical prowess and Alvin's wry humor (an unlisted track shows him indulging an audience member's dare to "Play 'Free Bird!'"), the album showcases the best of his dark and wordy songwriting. Waxing ebullient since his 2001 Grammy win for Best Traditional Folk Album, Alvin is winsome and candid live. Not bad for a guy who once had to duck errant beer bottles while warming up a recalcitrant audience of Queen fans.
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