My favorite Dave Alvin album is King of California. It’s one of those exceedingly rare recordings on which every song is compelling. An Amazon.com reviewer aptly called it “Dave’s Highway 61 Revisited, and one of the best folk albums of the 1990s.”
The most compelling of all the songs on this album is Border Radio (hear it). The evocative, elegaic lyrics and Alvin’s earth-trodden voice evoke the deep and nostalgic memory of the border radio sound. Border Radio is a paean to the old radio stations which, from the 1930s through 1980s beamed their high-powered signals from Mexico to homes throughout the Southwest, South and Midwest. The stations favored the old time country music that was ignored by the high brow stations based in the East. So they found their way to the ears and hearts of America’s heartland and made an indelible impression (as they did on Dave Alvin).
Another song of Alvin’s I love is his cover of Kern River (hear it) featured on the Merle Haggard tribute album, Tulare Dust. His life-soaked voice adds a profound elegaic quality to this song, whose narrator witnessed the drowning of his best friend on the Kern River when they were young. Very affecting songwriting.
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