Dave Alvin Eleven Eleven

Over a career spanning more than 30 years, Californian Dave Alvin has become a genuine (if somewhat undervalued) hero of the Americana scene, from his work with seminal bands the Blasters and X to a solo career that, with Eleven Eleven, now stands at 11 albums. As ever, Alvin fuses country, folk and rock'n'roll strains with ease, while his fluent, versatile guitar playing is a consistent pleasure. As a vocalist, he's equally convincing on gently reflective tunes like "No Worries Mija" and "Black Rose of Texas," the slow, sensual burn of "Dirty Nightgown," as well as more virile rockers. As a songsmith, Alvin is an excellent storyteller, creating vivid characters like the protagonist of "Run Conejo Run" ("from the hot streets of Tucson to a cold prison in Quebec"). He pays homage to the tragic figure of R&B star Johnny Ace on "Johnny Ace Is Dead," something of a companion piece to his earlier tribute to Bill Haley, "Haley's Comet." Alvin is accompanied by such top-notch players as Don Heffington, Canadian piano ace Gene Taylor and Greg Leisz, while effective duet partners on two tracks are Christy McWilson and the late, great Chris Gaffney. Making a special vocal appearance on album highlight "What's Up With Your Brother?" is brother (and Blasters lead singer) Phil Alvin. The bluesy song is a witty look at sibling rivalry, and will surely fuel hopes for a Blasters reunion. Eleven Eleven doesn't quite match the sustained brilliance of earlier albums Ashgrove and Blue Blvd, but it is another strong addition to a discography with few equals. (Yep Roc)