Like Bruce Springsteen, ex-Blaster Dave Alvin is one of the great chroniclers of the hardships faced by America's down and out. The lyrics of the best songs are so distressing and the music so dark that the overall effect of the album is haunting and harrowing. A prime example is "Abilene," in which Alvin tells of a girl who leaves the Northwest on a Greyhound bus bound for Texas. Her past includes a drunken, abusive father, a druggie mother and a job table dancing, but Alvin hints that where she's going will be no better than where she's coming from. And that's pretty much the way it goes with Alvin's characters.
They're all trapped by something - 30-year-old war memories in "1968," memories of a high-school sweetheart in "From a Kitchen Table" - over which they have no control. Alvin's rough, deep voice and Greg Leisz's production, filled with acoustic guitar picking and droning harmonium, are the perfect vehicles to convey the stories of Alvin's tormented characters. This is a fabulous work of art.