Public Domain (HighTone, 2000)
Reviewed by Michael Berick
On his new album, Dave Alvin has sort of pulled his own Harry Smith anthology. By collecting some of his favorite public domain (hence the album title) tunes, he serves the dual purpose of performing songs he has long enjoyed and educating his listeners - an age-old practice with musicians, particularly in the folk community. His 15 selections (plus one bonus instrumental) include old folk, country and blues tunes - truly "American music" - ranging from the well-known (like "Walk Right In") to the more obscure ("Dark Eyes").
Holding it all together is Alvin's rich, sonorous voice. He turns the "rolling river" in his stately take of "Shenandoah" into a deep, dark body of water. And while he gives an appropriate gravity to murder ballads like "Murder of The Lawson Family," it is when Alvin loosens up a little that his music exudes an enlivening spirit.
"Don't Let Your Deal Go Down," for example, bursts to life with its Dylanesque electric blues arrangement. Although you may bemoan that this talented songwriter foregoes originals here, this captivating set of archival songs fits right in with his work as they reveal the story-telling tradition that Alvin marvelously continues.
CDs by Dave Alvin
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