Beginning with his work with roots rock & rollers The Blasters in the late 1970s and through his solo work and his own bands The Guilty Ones and The Guilty Women, not to mention side projects and sideman stints with bands like X, The Knitters, and Flesh Eaters, an electric guitar has always been a mighty stick in the hands of Dave Alvin. From An Old Guitar: Rare and Unreleased Recordings is a new 16-song collection from Alvin. On it he dishes out a highly satisfying mix of acoustic blues and ballads, electric roadhouse blues, folk tunes, and country/rock consisting of both his own songs and those from some of his favorite tunesmiths. It receives the Ear Bliss look-see this week along with the latest release from singer Bettye LaVette called Blackbirds. It finds LaVette putting her interpretive powers to work on a collection of songs all from black female songwriters. It is a powerful album, to say the least. Let’s get to it and here’s wishing a happy and safe holiday season to all you Ear Bliss readers out there.
From An Old Guitar: Rare and Unreleased Recordings
Yep Roc Records
When on stage brandishing his electric guitar, Dave Alvin is oft-times a force of nature with the authoritative power he exudes. Whereas there are moments of such force on his latest album titled From An Old Guitar: Rare and Unreleased Recordings, it is an album about so much more than that, namely great songwriting and some pretty crafty work on the acoustic six-string. His first solo album in 11 years, From an Old Guitar features the Grammy-winning guitarist, singer and songwriter working his magic on a collection of his prized beat-up old guitars playing songs from some of his songwriting heroes along with his own original tunes. Says Alvin regarding the guitars, “Unlike some guitar players, I don’t have a huge collection of vintage guitars, only a few choice instruments that I fell in love with when both the guitars and I were younger and closer to mint condition. Over the decades of constant touring and recording, my 1964 Fender Stratocaster, 1934 National Steel Bodied Duolian, 1954 Martin 00018, 1958 Martin D28 and I have shared a lot of good times and some not so good times, some great gigs and more than a few terrible ones, some tough studio sessions and, without a doubt, many more fun ones. The 16 recordings on this album are all from fun sessions.” On the covers front, Alvin demonstrates that he sure knows how to pick ‘em putting his spin on selections from the likes of goods friends such as Peter Case (“On the Way Downtown”), the late Bill Morrissey (“Inside”), Chris Smither (“Link of Chain”), and musical heroes like Willie Dixon (“Peace”), Bob Dylan (“Highway 61 Revisited”), Earl Hooker (“Guitar Rhumba” which features the late Chris Gaffney on accordion), Doug Sahm (“Dynamite Woman”), Micky Newbury (“Mobile Blue”), pioneering jazz lady Lil’ Hardin Armstrong (“Perdido Street Blues”), and others. Add to that classic songs such as “Amanda” which Waylon Jennings hit huge with in the 1970s and “Albuquerque” and the sum total is a terrific collection of tunage from a highly seasoned vet of the music world who knows how to deliver the goods which Alvin does in spades on From An Old Guitar. Visit www.yeproc.com.
The singer Bettye LaVette has always been about the song and not her own, but those of others. Whereas songwriting has never been part of the equation where LaVette is concerned, consider the three-time Grammy nominee one of our greatest song interpreters. On her newest release and second for Verve Records called Blackbirds, LaVette’s interpretive powers are once again on display and this time out with an emphasis on songs from the 1950s associated with women of color. LaVette’s career dates all the way back to the early 1960s and Detroit where as a teen she churned out early soul hits like “My Man – He’s a Lovin’ Man” and “Let Me Down Easy.” Her Motor City peers at the time included the likes of Aretha Franklin, Martha Reeves, Diana Ross, and Marvin Gaye. LaVette’s career faded by the late 1970s and she remained off the radar until the early aughts. It was the album I’ve Got My Own Hell to Raise featuring reworks of songs spanning Sinéad O’Connor and Lucinda Williams to Joan Armatrading and Dolly Parton all performed LaVette’s distinct style that put her back on the map where she has remained. Suffice to say it has been a lengthy career and as Blackbirds demonstrates, LaVette remains a vital presence with her rich, soulful and raspy voice. The song selections on Blackbirds come from a mix of those popularized by her peers and others from iconic artists for which she has high regard with LaVette leaving her masterful mark on each and every one of them coloring each her own way. Produced by the drummer Steve Jordan who also helmed her last album, Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit,” Dinah Washington’s “Drinking Again,” Nina Simone’s “I Hold No Grudge,” Nancy Wilson’s “Save Your Love For Me,” Ruth Brown’s “Book of Lies,” and Della Reese’s “Blues for the Weepers” are among the selections all of which are keepers. Recommended. Visit www.ververecords.com.
With the holidays upon us and the COVID cases continuing their upswing, in-person live music events have pretty much ceased with live streaming the only option. Venues that have been presenting live music include the Courthouse Center for the Arts in West Kingston, The Greenwich Odeum in East Greenwich, the Narrows Center for the Arts in Fall River, MA, and the Stadium Theater in Woonsocket. At press time, only the Narrows Center for the Arts had an event scheduled in the next week and it happens this Friday, January 1 with Ward Hayden & The Outliers playing a live stream direct from the Narrows stage on Friday night at 8 pm. Check the Narrows web site at www.narrowscenter.showare.com for details on that event and upcoming shows. There also continues to be a steady flow of artists and venues streaming live music. One of the best sources for information on live streaming events is the web site Bandsintown (www.bandsintown.com). Other platforms offering streaming are Facebook, Youtube, and Instagram. Some venues offering live streaming performances worth checking out include Signature Sounds Records’ “Parlor Room Home Sessions” which live streams on most Thursday evenings, Americana Highways, and Outpost in the Burbs. Locally, Mark Cutler hits the Facebook Live stage every Wednesday evening with a show from his home at 7 pm.
Dan Ferguson is a free-lance music writer and host of The Boudin Barndance, broadcast Thursday nights from 6 – 9 p.m. on WRIU-FM 90.3.