Dave Alvin – Eleven Eleven (album review)

Dave Alvin – Eleven Eleven (Yep Rock Records) CD review

Dave Alvin has made a career out of delving into the roots of American music.  Yet, out of all his releases, his brand new album, Eleven Eleven, ranks as one of his finest to date.  For one, this marks the first time since 2004’s Ashgrove that the former member of the Blasters has written an entire record’s worth of tunes (two were co-written).  Secondly, it’s been awhile since he’s released a straight-ahead rock album like this (his last release was the acoustic Dave Alvin and the Guilty Women).  But, most importantly, the sound is pure classic American rock n’ roll; the kind that was tested in dive bars along Route 66.

With just guitar, bass, drums, and the occasional tinkling of piano, there’s plenty of room for Alvin’s deep, inviting voice to wander.  At his best, he kinda talk/sings through most of the tracks – but his booming delivery begs the question – why didn’t this guy get into radio?

Eleven Eleven is made up of songs that work more as tiny vignettes – about kickin’ ass, of love lost, and about legends long gone.  Taking stories like this and setting them to music isn’t an easy task, yet Alvin sounds like he’s lived through it all – whether it’s reminiscing about the good old days of US Steel in “Gary, Indiana,” or recounting a tragic passing in “Johnny Ace is Dead.”  Another highlight is the slinky “Dirty Nightgown,” featuring some searing guitar.  There’s also never been a better song written about sibling rivalry than “What’s Up with Your Brother,” sung with Alvin’s own brother, and former bandmate, Phil.  Alvin sings “I’m old, weak and gray / and I’m running out of time” on the aforementioned “Gary” – yet honestly, he sounds like he’s still at the top of his game.  –Tony Peters