Blackjack David

Dave Alvin

Hightone Records, 1998

http://www.davealvin.net

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 07/08/1998

Where the hell has Dave Alvin been in my decade-plus of reviewing music?

Of course Alvin earned immortality with his work in The Blasters, not to mention his stint with punk stalwarts X. But Alvin might just be in the best part of his career - where he's polished his ability to tell a story through the words and music of his songs. His latest release Blackjack David is one of the most incredible albums I've ever heard, and places Alvin up in the ranks of such musicians as Townes Van Zandt, Jim Croce and Harry Chapin.

The album is very folk and country influenced, styles which blend with the deep baritone of Alvin's voice. The eleven songs contained in this album tell the stories of the downtrodden in the world, painting their bleak pictures with some of the brightest colors - yet leaving enough room for a ray of optimism in some of the numbers.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The stories told on Blackjack David are incredibly moving and powerful. "From A Kitchen Table," which ranks as one of my favorites on the album, shows the struggles of a man who is trapped in the town he grew up in and the only way of life he knows. The song features the protagonist pouring his heart and frustrations out like no other fine poetry could capture - but whether it helps or not, Alvin leaves that decision up to the listener.

Likewise, "1968" is a tale of the inner demons a Vietnam War veteran faces, and the constant reminder that he lost his childhood friend in the war. The words of the song (co-written by Alvin and Chris Gaffney) create a portrait of almost any town you could imagine - and, unfortunately, could well be a true tale told by many people.

Alvin's penchant for folk can be found on the title track (a traditional number whipped into shape by Alvin) and "Mary Brown," a song which brings out the Van Zandt influences in Alvin's music. The song is one of the best modern-day folk numbers I've heard in a very long time, almost sounding like a song that could have come from the glory days of the genre.

Alvin throws in touches of the blues ("New Highway," "The Way You Say Goodbye") and country ("Laurel Lynn") throughout Blackjack David, but he is able to pull such shifts in style off flawlessly. Assisting Alvin is an incredible collection of musicians, including the album's producer Greg Leisz.

No matter what style of music is the flavor of the month, music such as that on Blackjack David always seems to appeal to people. Bob Dylan knew it. Bruce Springsteen knew it. So, too, does Dave Alvin, though only time will show if he will achieve the level of success his peers did. For Alvin's sake, I hope he does.

Blackjack David is not only one of the most beautiful and moving albums I've heard in a long time, but also the best album I've heard all year. In fact, other releases this year are going to have a hard time knocking this one off the top of my "Best Of 1998" list.

Rating: A

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© 1998 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Hightone Records, and is used for informational purposes only.