The Blasters

The Slash Recordings

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"We got the Louisiana boogie and the Delta blues/We got country swing and rockabilly, too/We got jazz, country western, and Chicago blues/It's the greatest music that you ever knew." Dave Alvin was writing about "American Music" in his song of the same name when he penned those lines, but while he would never be quite so arrogant as to say so himself, he could have been talking about his band, the Blasters, who used the song as the title track of their first album. While often lumped in with the L.A. rockabilly scene that rose up in the wake of punk rock, from the start the Blasters displayed a wide-ranging musical diversity that set them far apart from, say, Levi and the Rockats. The Blasters were a supremely tight and tasteful band with enough fire, smarts, and passion for two or three groups. Phil Alvin was a singer who knew how to communicate the grand gesture while still touching the small details; his brother, Dave Alvin, was a peerless songwriter who could honor the artists who influenced him while finding a distinct and memorable voice of his own (he could play a mean guitar to boot), and John Bazz and Bill Bateman were a strong and swinging rhythm section. The Blasters cut two superb albums for Slash Records that raised the bar for the entire 1980s and '90s roots rock movement, 1981's The Blasters and 1983's Non Fiction, and a great live EP, 1982's Over There: Live at the Venue, London. The group's third and final set for Slash, 1985's Hard Line, was an ambitious attempt to modernize the group's sound in hopes of finding a place on radio, which was only partially successful, though it still contains a number of great songs, and even the weaker numbers would raise the batting average for most other bands. The Blasters left behind a remarkable body of work, and Testament: The Complete Slash Recordings finally makes all of it available on CD for the first time. The set contains The Blasters, Non Fiction, Over There, and Hard Line in their entirety, along with strong outtakes from the Non Fiction and Hard Line sessions ("Kathleen" might have been the finest song on the final album had it made the cut), four additional performances from the show recorded for Over There, two tunes the band recorded for the movie Streets of Fire, and a noisy but inspired duo performance by Dave and Phil on Jimmy Reed's "Take out Some Insurance" at a New York club gig. With Testament: The Complete Slash Recordings and Hightone's reissue of American Music (the group's rough-and-ready debut album, cut for Rollin' Rock Records in 1980), the Blasters' entire catalog is in print for the first time, and anyone who digs blues, rockabilly, R&B, country, or pretty much any tributary of American postwar roots music will have a stompin' good time with this set; rarely has a crash course in music history been this much fun.

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