Dave Alvin, Clarence Gatemouth Brown, Billy Boy Arnold, Joe Louis Walker: Live in Long Beach 1997

Dave Alvin leaves little doubt about his commitment to the blues.

Dave Alvin, Clarence Gatemouth Brown, Billy Boy Arnold, Joe Louis Walker

Live in Long Beach 1997

Label: Rockbeat
US Release date: 2015-02-17
UK Release date: 2015-02-17
Label website
Artist website

At first glance, Dave Alvin seemed somewhat out of place the night he performed at the Long Beach Blues Festival. He had been a member of various upstart cow punk conglomerates -- The Blasters and X among them. If anything, his ties to roots music put him squarely in the alt-country camp, not that inhabited by his co-stars for the evening, Clarence Gatemouth Brown, Billy Boy Arnold and Joe Louis Walker, men whose blues credentials were solidly etched and beyond repute. Not that Arnold lacked cred in his own arena; his solo albums, and specifically, his signature song "King of California" suggested he was worthy of an Americana mantle. Here however, in 1997, he seemed somewhat out of place.

Inevitably, Alvin would leave little doubt about his commitment to the blues. The six songs uncovered on Live in Long Beach 1997 -- both covers and originals -- reveal a musician deeply vested in the genre, a fact he'd make clear some seventeen years later when he and his brother Phil would team up to record a tribute to their early idol Big Bill Broonzy. According to the commentary he shares with the crowd, both he and Phil idolized the bluesmen who played so frequently in their hometown and he name drops Big Joe Turner and Percy Mayfield as among the artists the brothers would literally stalk whenever those performers would come to town. Not surprisingly then, he starts the album off earnestly by sticking to the basics and avoiding any temptation to wander off course. When he varies from the template, it comes by way of his own "Dry River", a song that shows off his rich resonant vocal and reflects the historical impetus that's stirred some of his best songs.

Alvin's the opener for this extended set that finds him staying on stage and contributing guitar to the headliners. Billy Boy Arnold is represented only by a single entry, but his take on the seminal classic "I Wish You Would" is as rich and riveting as any version that's come down the pike before or since. Gatemouth Brown practically steals the show, offering up his share of bayou-based instrumentals with a distinct zydeco flavor. "He's the only guy I know who could play polka music on a fiddle and make a blues crowd happy," emcee Gary Chiacho jests, and indeed, judging by what we hear here, that certainly seems the case. Though mostly instrumental, the classic Cajun melodies "Jolie Blon" and "Jambalaya" are instantly recognizable and bring the festive proceedings to a peak.

It's left to Billy Boy Arnold playing harmonica and Joe Louis Walker on guitar, with Alvin in tow, to bring the album to a close courtesy of a pair of jams, "Long Beach Blues" and "It's a Long Way Home". It's an arousing finish to a tumultuous set, one that ought to have made every blues aficionado in attendance feel like they got their money's worth. Nearly two decades later, the rest of us can feel the same.

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