At his best, Dave Alvin delivers clear-eyed and finely realized blue-collar roots rock narratives that work in the same territory as Bruce Springsteen and Steve Earle, although purposely less anthemic, with a dose of Tom Waits' love of lost souls desperate for redemption mixed in, and all supported by Alvin's sharp guitar style and everyman vocals. There are times, particularly when he co-writes with Tom Russell, that his songs fill with too much lyrical detail to truly take off, but when Alvin hones his songs to just what the story requires, then leans in and gives it that California rockabilly soul sound he's so good at, he's a front-line songwriter. This two-disc set combines his second and third solo albums, 1991's Blue Blvd and 1993's Museum of Heart, both of which were originally released on Hightone Records after Alvin was cut by Columbia Records after his first solo record, 1987's Romeo's Escape (it was entitled Every Night About This Time in the U.K.), a critical success, failed to make much commercial headway. Luckily, Dwight Yoakam had taken Alvin's "Long White Cadillac" onto the country charts in 1987, and Alvin used the royalty money to begin recording Blue Blvd, an album that has several outstanding songs, including the title track, "Blue Blvd," the stark and direct "Guilty Man," a song that became Alvin's signature tune in concert, and the beautiful "Dry River." Museum of Heart has fewer high points, but "Thirty Dollar Room" is powerful and the short guitar instrumental that closes the album, "Florence Avenue Lullaby," is lovely by anyone's standards (a coda of sorts, the lullaby doesn't appear in the printed track list, but is lovely all the same). These were (and are) both interesting albums, but for the casual listener at least, a single-disc best-of collection from the Hightone years might be a better starting point.
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AllMusic Review by Steve Leggett
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2