Dave Alvin - "Mobile Blue" Release: October 2007
Sometimes people argue over who is the greatest living songwriter or who is the greatest male or female songwriter or who is the greatest songwriter in Texas, Nashville, New York, California or wherever. Usually the songwriters that these people bestow the "greatest" title on is whomever is the current critical darling songwriter of the week. And they may very be right, I don't know. I always abstain from these kinds of discussions because songwriting ain't baseball or football. Songwriting can't be discussed in those black and white terms for many reasons. One of the reasons is that there are too many fantastic unknown or little appreciated songwriters throughout music history who I think are as good or even better than many of the names I often hear mentioned.
For example: Mickey Newbury. A case could easily be made that he was as responsible as anyone for the golden era of country songwriting in the 1960's and 70's. Some of his songs were quasi-autobiographical heartbreakers while others were beautifully sketched narrative ballads but almost all are as good as anything written by anyone anywhere anytime.
John Prine said that "Mickey Newbury is probably the best songwriter ever." Kris Kristofferson said, "God, I learned more about songwriting from Mickey than I did from any other single human being." You can't argue with those guys.
You may have never heard of Mickey Newbury but you certainly heard his songs. They've been covered by (a very short list): Elvis, Willie Nelson, B.B. King, Tom Jones, Dottie West, Jerry Garcia, Etta James, Jerry Lee Lewis, Ray Charles, Roy Orbison, Phish, Joan Baez, Buddy Rich, Keith Richards and, even, Engelbert Humperdinck. An extremely impressive list of admirers. I highly recommend any of his albums if you want to hear a master at work.
The Newbury song I recorded, "Mobile Blue," is from his classic concept album, Frisco Mabel Joy. It was cut as part of a tribute CD to Frisco Mabel Joy and Newbury that was put together by No Depression's Peter Blackstock a few years back that deserved more attention than it received. The track was recorded in 2000 at the sessions for my Public Domain CD and features Rick Shea on the biting electric guitar, Joe Terry on the pumping piano, Bobby Lloyd Hicks slapping the skins, Brantley Kearns on the swinging fiddle and former Rodger Miller/Hoyt Axton/Dillard and Clark/Jackson Browne bassist, David Jackson thumping the stand up bass. The backwards guitar intro is by jazz guitar innovator Bill Frizzell. - Dave Alvin
Dave Alvin and the Guilty Men - "Variations on Earl's Rumba" Release: November 2007
"Variations on Earl's Rumba" is The Guilty Men's tribute to one of our favorite guitarists, Earl Hooker. He's a legend among blues musicians, for peerless technique, his clean slide guitar style as well as his fluid single string picking (his playing is also respected outside the blues community - master Celtic/Folk/Rock guitarist Richard Thompson told me that Earl Hooker was one of his favorite guitarists - Now, that's high praise!). From his earliest recordings at Sun Records, through the many tracks he cut for King, Chess, Argo, Checker, Chief, Arhoolie, Blue Thumb, both as a solo artist and as sideman (for Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Junior Wells, Charles Brown and Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee to name a few), Earl Hooker displayed how he was, in writer Bill Dahl's words, "an endlessly inventive fountain of ideas that other guitarists drank from regularly." He could also bring his hard blues chops to jazz, country and, as his original version of the instrumental (guitar rumba) shows, latin music. Unfortunately, Earl Hooker died too young and never got the kind of "guitar God" acknowledgement he rightly deserved. - Dave Alvin
Dave Alvin and Chris Gaffney - "Two Lucky Bums" Release: December 2007
Written by Dave Alvin Performed by Dave Alvin & Chris Gaffney
Out in the lonely, high desert plains of New Mexico is a tiny, semi abandoned town called Cuervo. Fifteen or twenty mostly dilapidated buildings made of rock, adobe and wood. My best guess is that they were built around one hundred years ago but they could be much older. In their current state the buildings appear not to have been constructed by human hands but to have risen out of the surrounding sand, rock and chaparral landscape under their own power. That's about all I know about Cuervo.
Now, what does Cuervo have to do with "Two Lucky Bums", a duet that I wrote for myself and my best pal, Chris Gaffney (from the Hacienda Brothers)? Well, for many years after Gaffney and I first stumbled on to