Title: Eleven Eleven
Genre: Blues Rock
Review: On Eleven Eleven, Dave Alvin continues his transformation from journeyman musician to becoming one of the people he always idolized: the one of a kind bluesmen and storytellers, rock and rollers and poets, folk singers and road warriors whose influences he’s absorbed since he was a kid growing up fast in Downey, California.
The influences are still recognizable, of course, but breaking his longtime rule of never writing songs on the road—he wrote almost all of them in motel rooms on one of his endless tours—has strengthened Alvin’s voice, in both senses of the word.
The best songs are character studies or snapshots of history. “Gary, Indiana, 1959,” is told from the point of view of an old retired steelworker recalling the four-month strike that stands as one of the great triumphs of organized labor. In a few brief, clean lines, Alvin tells a story of that struggle, which underscores how much union power—along with a fairness in our society—continues to unravel while “the big boys make the rules.” The opening tune, “Harlan County Line” is a more personally shaded, one of those “memories I pretend to forget,” about a good woman who got away—not that the singer had a choice, or did anything wrong. “Said there was some trouble she had to handle back home,” across the Harlan County line.
“Johnny Ace is Dead” could be said to have a little to do with worker/management relations as well, if you wanted to stretch the point with a wink. It tells the familiar tale of the R&B singer whose ballad “Pledging My Love” was just starting to cross over in the earliest days of rock ‘ roll. Christmas night, 1954, Ace was backstage in Houston when he either shot himself accidentally or died playing Russian roulette between shows. The characters include Ace’s touring mate, Big Mama Thornton, who in Alvin’s version is a witness, and the slick label owner Don Robey, who doesn’t miss a beat in capitalizing on Ace’s death. The guitars speed like a runaway train, and both the song and performance feel like a cross between Chuck Berry’s “You Can’t Catch Me” and a great lost track from “Highway 61 Revisited.”
Tracklist: 01. Harlan County Line; 02. Johnny Ace Is Dead; 03. Black Rose Of Texas; 04. Gary, Indiana 1959; 05. Run Conejo Run; 06. No Worries Mija; 07. What’s Up With Your Brother; 08. Murrieta’s Dead; 09. Manzanita; 10. Dirty Nightgown; 11. Two Lucky Bums.