Dave Alvin

Ashgrove blues

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By Michael Norman  

You could say that guitarist, singer, bluesman and diehard rocker Dave Alvin has been trying to get back to the Ashgrove for most of the past thirty years. The legendary Los Angeles folk-blues club was a home away from home for Alvin growing up in Los Angeles in the '60s and '70s -- the place that schooled him in the mysterious ways of the blues and rock 'n' roll.

The way he tells it, everything he's ever done in music -- the Blasters, his many solo recordings, his guest shots with X, Tom Waits and Los Lobos, his work as a producer for bands like the Derailers and Big Sandy and the Fly-Rite Boys -- has been inspired by the gigs he saw at the Ashgrove by the likes of Johnny "Guitar" Watson, the Reverend Gary Davis, Big Joe Turner, Lightnin' Hopkins, Muddy Waters, Little Milton and more.

So, it's fitting then that Alvin's best studio album in years, perhaps his best album ever, is named in honor of his favorite old-school haunt. Ashgrove is a nearly perfect blend of the things that make Alvin great: a collection of boozy, electric blues ("Black Haired Girl," "Black Sky"), big-sky acoustic folk ("Everett Ruess," "Rio Grande") and transcendental rock 'n' roll ("Out of Control," "Somewhere in Time").

Alvin is capable of summoning just about any sound, rhythm or emotion from his guitar, whether he's making a holy racket with his Strat or strumming an aching chord on his acoustic. Three other Ashgrove vets, bassist Bob Glaub, drummer Don Heffington and guitarist Greg Leisz, who does double duty as producer, give great support as the backing band, helping Alvin create rich, poetic music that sounds like the soundtrack to an American dream. Alvin has indeed done the ghosts of the Ashgrove proud.

Michael Norman is Entertainment Editor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.