Photo: Daniel Jackson / Courtesy of Shore Fire Media

Dave Alvin and Jimmie Dale Gilmore Offer a Tour of the Country with ‘Downey to Lubbock’

The invigorating blend of traditional blues, country, folk, and more on Downey to Lubbock shows Dave Alvin and Jimmie Dale Gilmore finding common ground.

Downey to Lubbock
Dave Alvin and Jimmie Dale Gilmore
Yep Roc
1 June 2018

Downey to Lubbock stems from Dave Alvin (the Blasters, X) and Jimmie Dale Gilmore (the Flatlanders) discovering some musical and biographical points of connection while touring together last year. Of particular note, both artists trace some of their roots to time they spent at Los Angeles’s club the Ash Grove, and the joy of seeing and meeting artists like Brownie McGhee and Lightning Hopkins there. The two decided to get together for a loose set of blues, country, and folk, and while Downey to Lubbock sounds like the casual work of two confident artists, it never feels like a tossed-off side project.

The album mostly features covers – a tribute in selection and spirit to some of the musicians who inspire the pair – but it opens with the original title track. The two trade vocals, Alvin enjoying his “loud Stratocaster that can blow any roadhouse down” while “hippie country singer” Gilmore reveals that “West Texas wind blows through my veins”. Two verses in and the singers have captured their different backgrounds while simultaneously hitting the pull that brings them together despite the strange turns that have led to this point. Alvin does turn his Strat loose for a bit, shaking that roadhouse the song most certainly lives in.

The other new number, Alvin’s “Billy the Kid and Geronimo” takes a folkier approach to tell the tale of the titular figures meeting for a moment to sympathize over the violent lives they’ve lived and the cultural positions they’ve come to. Gilmore’s high country voice takes the part of Geronimo while Alvin more or less sticks to William Bonney and broader narration, sending one man “prison-bound the other to his own grave”. The music effectively provides a bridge between the two voices, Gilmore’s tenor leading further into country while Alvin’s baritone adds a different color.

The two aren’t a perfect match vocally (Gilmore fits better with his son Colin’s harmonies on “Deportee – Plane Wreck at Los Gatos”, on which Alvin doesn’t sing), but the album doesn’t rely on that sort of blend. Instead, it thrives on reinvigorating tradition, whether old blues or early rock ‘n’ roll (Lloyd Price’s and then everyone’s “Lawdy Miss Clawdy” or 1960s folk (a surprisingly strong cover of the Youngbloods’ “Get Together”). The love these two have for their roots (and roots music, broadly considered) comes through with each performance. It doesn’t take anything away from this record to call it a fun disc.

That sort of exuberance makes picking highlights – aside from the opener – as time-consuming as pinning down each genre represented. Gilmore’s voice suits the blues numbers selected here, particularly “Buddy Browns’ Blues”. Tributes to contemporaries Steve Young and Chris Gaffney are more than effective. Alvin’s singing and steel-bodied guitar playing bring new life to 100-year-old jug band number “Stealin, Stealin'”. The pair, and the talented full band behind them accomplish what they set out to do, honoring a range of music and experiences while comfortable jumping into old favorites. Despite the thousand miles between Downey, CA, and Lubbock, TX, the two don’t break new ground, but they certainly offer a fun tour of the country.

RATING 7 / 10
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