Not an old album this time. I dragged myself kicking and screaming into the CD age for a spell to share some new-fangled liner notes from a favorite recent release. Liner Notable #9:
“While California doesn’t quite have the deep indigenous folk music traditions of Mississippi, Texas, or Georgia, it does boast a rich history of jazz, blues, R&B, country, surf, and early rock and roll. California has also produced more than its share of damned good songwriters.”
Paying tribute and playing interpretive craftsman to the hilt, California native Dave Alvin’s West of the West is a beautifully realized collection of songs — with liner notes more than up to a systematic task — from California-born or raised artists who’ve "at least had their first kiss or broken heart here.” But Alvin brings an American roots element to many of the songs, not only bringing in an amalgam of that “rich history,” but altering some songs beyond recognition; I didn’t quite recognize Jackson Browne’s “Redneck Friend” until about halfway through the bluesy revision.
Which kind of tells you that this year's West of the West, with its infusion of blues, folk, R&B and country, is not your quintessential coastal car-cruise music, SoCal style. No, this has more of an inland intrigue, perfect musical accompaniment for driving through the Central Valley or along the Eastern Sierras to Bishop and beyond. Yes, Brian Wilson’s “Surfer Girl” is represented here — in an exquisite gospel-tinged cover — but so are songs by John Stewart (San Diego), Tom Waits (Pomona), Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo and Louis Perez (Los Angeles), and the Bay Area’s Robert Hunter and John Fogerty, among others not so expressly linked to an overarching fun-in-the-sun Golden State sensation. And how about Bakersfield's Merle Haggard and under-the-radar Fresno folkie Jim Ringer? Reason enough to pop in West in the CD player as you're driving through the farm communities and oil towns of Highway 99.