By Barry Gilbert
Of the Post-Dispatch
Yep Roc Records
Troubador Dave Alvin's seventh solo studio CD since splitting with brother Phil and the Blasters in the mid-'80s is a return to a harder, more electric sound and is a tribute to the famous Los Angeles blues club of the title:
"Well when I was a young boy/I used to slip away/Down to the Ashgrove/To hear the old blues men play/There was Big Joe and Lightnin'/And Reverend Gary, too/Well I'd sit and stare and dream/Of doin' what they could do."
Alvin, a fiery guitarist in concert, is doin' what they did. He has become one of our finest songwriters, straddling genres and telling stories of the folks who built, live in and cope with life in America.
Alvin adopts the persona of "Everett Reuss," a young explorer who disappeared forever in the Escalante badlands of Utah in 1934 "cause I know God is here in the canyons."
He also introduces us to a "Black Haired Girl" who runs the cash register at a gas station on an itchy, edgy, rainy night; a "Sinful Daughter"; a "Man in the Bed"; and a guy who is dangerously "Out of Control."
Two familiar songs appear here as well: a radically reworked version of "Rio Grande," co-written with and recorded first by Tom Russell; and a slower, less-country "Somewhere in Time," co-written and recorded with Los Lobos on their "The Ride" CD.
Alvin also gives us a second wonderful song about radio and radios, after his bittersweet "Border Radio" (1987). "Nine Volt Heart," written with Rod Hodges, will make fans of '60s transistor radios mistily nostalgic: "Plastic silver nine volt heart/You click it on and let the music start/And the radio was his toy/The radio was his toy."