“For the first time ever, I’m the best-looking guy in the band.”
Dave Alvin is talking about what it’s like to play with his new all-female group, the Guilty Women, who for now have replaced his usual Guilty Men.
Dave Alvin and the Guilty Women
(Yep Roc; US: 26 May 2009; UK: 25 May 2009)
In a lot of ways there’s not much difference, the veteran roots-rocker says over the phone from Springfield, Ill: “It’s just musicians — get into vehicle at Point A and go to Point B and play. And it was the same making the record. ... I tend to watch my language a little bit. That in its way is a little sexist, because a few of the girls have a fouler mouth than I do. ...
“To sound a little New Age-y, there is at times a loving female energy that you don’t get with guys on stage. But we’ll see for how long. The tour’s for about four months.” By the time it’s over, “there might not be any loving female energy toward me.”
The Guilty Women all come out of the same Americana scene as Alvin, and except for steel guitarist Cindy Cashdollar, he has previously worked with all of them: Sarah Brown, Nina Gerber, Laurie Lewis, Amy Farris, Christy McWilson, and Lisa Pankratz. Their eponymous debut album is a mostly acoustic collection of songs by Alvin, Brown and McWilson, as well as numbers by Kate Wolf and Tim Hardin, and a boogie-woogie version of “Que Sera Sera.”
Besides a Cajun-flavored rendition of his Blasters chestnut “Marie Marie,” Alvin’s contributions tend toward the autobiographical. The most striking is “Downey Girl,” a reflection on the late Karen Carpenter, who hailed from the same Los Angeles suburb as Alvin. As he notes in the song, Alvin never liked her music, but as he grew older he came to understand her pain, and the result is a movingly empathetic reminiscence that reveals the 53-year-old songwriter’s own sense of mortality.
The impetus for working with the Guilty Women came from the death last year of Alvin’s best friend and bandmate, Chris Gaffney, an extraordinary songwriter and singer who never got the recognition he deserved. To help rectify that, Alvin put together the album “Man of Somebody’s Dreams: A Tribute to the Songs of Chris Gaffney,” a superb celebration featuring a who’s who of talent, from Los Lobos and Alejandro Escovedo to Boz Scaggs and Joe Ely.
“I was depressed and sad, and I needed something to pull me out of it,” Alvin says of working with the women. “It just boiled down to: I’ve got to do something different, so I’m not looking for my dead friend on stage. Because of the switch, in a way I kind of feel his presence closer. ... I’m not sad, let’s put it that way.”