An album of cover versions can sometimes be a window into a musician's roots
An album of cover versions can sometimes be a window into a musician's roots. So it is with Dave Alvin's "West of the West," due May 30 from Yep Roc Records. The set gathers a baker's dozen tunes by California songwriters, ranging from the well-known (Merle Haggard, John Fogerty, Jackson Browne, Brian Wilson, Tom Waits and Los Lobos' David Hidalgo and Louie Perez) to the relatively obscure (Jim Ringer, Blackie Farrell).
Like Alvin's 2000 release "Public Domain," an album of covers that won a Grammy for best traditional folk album, it affords an enlightening sense of the performer's artistic sensibilities and his status as a native of the Golden State.
Alvin, who was born and raised in Downey, has toyed with the project since 1994, when he contributed to "Tulare Dust," Hightone Records' Haggard tribute. "There was this talk of doing all California songs," Alvin recalls. "I said, 'Ehhh, maybe that's a little too 'Bing sings Hawaiian.'"
While several of the songs on "West of the West" are specifically set in California, Alvin -- who has written and recorded prolifically as a solo artist since his days with the Blasters and X in the 1970s and '80s -- ultimately settled on the idea of mining the repertoires of other California writers.
"The nature of the state is diversity, and the nature of how people live in California," Alvin says. "Merle Haggard and Jackson Browne may have met, but they view the universe differently. They're all in their niche."
Before Alvin begins a June tour to support "West of the West" with his band the Guilty Men, he'll briefly step into a sideman role.
Next month, the "all-star" lineup of the pioneering L.A. punk group the Flesh Eaters -- which included vocalist Chris Desjardins, X's John Doe and D.J. Bonebrake, the Blasters' Alvin and Bill Bateman and Los Lobos' Steve Berlin -- will regroup for three California dates (including April 6 at the Echo in L.A.) before playing London's All Tomorrow's Parties festival.