Dave Alvin's first solo album after leaving the Blasters was recorded for Epic Records, but though Romeo's Escape (aka Every Night About This Time) was a fine record, it wasn't until Alvin began recording for the independent Hightone label that he really found his feet as a recording artist. Romeo's Escape leaned towards the swaggering roots rock sound of the Blasters with a tough, lean approach, but from Blue Blvd onward, Alvin's songwriting began to more clearly reflect his appetite for rock, blues, country, folk, and a wealth of other American musical styles. While Alvin has never forsaken his rock & roll roots, he's cut a handful of excellent acoustic albums which show he can dial down his amp and still make his message heard, and sometimes with even greater clarity. Now that Shout Factory has bought the rights to the Hightone back catalog, they've assembled The Best of the Hightone Years, an 18-song collection which is a fine and admirably comprehensive overview of Alvin's work for the label. Not all of Alvin's albums for Hightone are represented here -- the live discs Interstate City and Out in California don't make the cut -- but there are selections from all his studio sets for Hightone along with three unreleased studio tracks, one previously unheard live number, and a duet between Alvin and Katy Moffatt from her album Loose Diamond (which Alvin produced). Songs like "Haley's Comet" and "Museum of Heart" show off Alvin's gifts as a rocker, and "King of California," "Fourth of July," and "Dry River" are sterling examples of his talent for telling a story in a more intimate setting. Alvin helped compile this disc and penned a fine liner essay, and while one CD is hardly enough to encompass the full musical vision of this gifted songwriter and troubadour, The Best of the Hightone Years at least offers a concise and full-bodied thumbnail sketch of his talents.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming