Dave Alvin West of the West: Songs from California Songwriter

If there was a Hall of Fame for Americana singer-songwriters of the past 25 years, Dave Alvin would already be inducted. From groundbreaking work with the Blasters to a long series of solo albums, his level of excellence has rarely wavered. It’s a mite surprising to see him put out an album of covers, but it works on West of the West, his tribute to California. Aside from Mississippi, perhaps, no state has inspired as many songs, and Alvin (a proud fourth-generation Californian) sings some of the best with palpable love and great skill. Stellar writers covered include Merle Haggard, John Fogerty, Tom Waits, Jackson Browne and Jerry Garcia, as well as comparative unknowns Jim Ringer and Blackie Farrell. The general mood of the disc is California-style mellow and laidback, while the playing and Alvin’s richly resonant voice is in top shape. His take on Los Lobos’ "Down on the Riverbed” doesn’t quite live up to the original, but reminds you what a great song it is. A sweetly melancholy version of Beach Boys classic "Surfer Girl” is a real highlight, as is a haunting rendition of Grateful Dead classic "Loser.” Call this album a case of "Caiforniaffection,” and let’s hope for a second volume. (Yep Roc)