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Guilty Pleasure: 
Review of self-titled Dave Alvin and the Guilty Women 
By psychologist, Dr Bruce L. Thiessen, aka Dr BLT 

Usually when I think about guilty pleasure 
I think of something bad that tastes so sweet 
Usually when I think of guilty pleasure 
I think of something bad that’s good to eat 
But this ain’t that kind of guilty pleasure 
Because it’s good, and that’s what brings me guilt 
I realize how far I’ve got to travel 
When they weave these songs together like a quilt… 
Extracted from the song, "Guilty Pleasure," inspired by the CD, words and music by Dr BLT copyright 2009 

Dave Alvin and the Guilty Women’s self-titled CD is a skillfully crafted, 12-song tale of the drifter, as an archetype. 

Driftwood is ageless, and so are the creative spirits that deftly deliver this timeless treasure. There are many strings and multiple stringed and percussive instruments on this CD, but they all speak in one voice. It is a distinct, harmonious, halcyon voice. It is the voice of the past embracing the future. It is the faint, uncertain voice of the unknown boldly surrendering to whatever may lie ahead. It is the voice of pining for life and the voice of mourning what has been crushed beneath the speeding train of time. 

Though I’d heard song projects Dave Alvin was involved with in prior recordings, I discovered Dave Alvin again for the first time through my participation as a regular guest and contributing singer/songwriter on the show Bakersfield and Beyond, aired second Thursday evening from 6:30-8:30 pm on kwmr.

When I called in to offer my perspective on the show’s content for that evening, and to provide my usual round-up of what’s happening in terms of the Bakersfield underground music scene, I just happened to be the right caller to win the CD. Having just heard an excellent interview the co-hosts did with Dave Alvin for the show, my interest in Dave Alvin and the Guilty Women’s new CD was piqued, and I eagerly looked forward to receiving the package in the mail.

The package arrived the day I was scheduled to teach a psychology course called Scientific Writing in the Behavioral and Social Sciences. My head was in a cloud of abstract ideas and when I slipped in the CD on the way home. Those clouds were briskly blown away as I began to listen. I was brought down to earth with an earthy, bucolic sound and an intimate, acoustic feel that gave me the sensation that I was in a small coffee house or pub sitting in the front row listening to the band play. 

The wonders of modern science are worthy of wonder, but they can’t compete with the wonders of free, artistic expression. The stories told in these songs were stories that could not possibly be put in a test tube and subjected to empirical observation. It would kill the very essence of every experience so poignantly depicted on this collection. 

Being such a die-hard admirer of poets and prophets, I really began to feel engaged in the CD on track 2, California’s Burning. The song couldn’t have come out at a more relevant point in California’s history than right now. 

It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor… 
Apparently the fire depicted in this song is an equal opportunity destroyer. I like the way that symbols of nature, like the coyotes howling and the devil wind startin’ to blow, are juxtaposed with the existential sense of broken dreams and spiritual bankruptcy. You better pack up your family, and you better get out while you can!

Sounds to me like the California gold rush in reverse. The gold rush in California was the single most important event that allowed the Bakersfield sound to happen. The song infuses the listener with hope when it suggests that after the fire has burned everything to the ground, California will be rebuilt. 

Dave Alvin puts Downey, California map, on the next track, Downey Girl. Well, perhaps the Downey girl that inspired the song had already put Downey on the map. This song really has me curious as to who “Downey Girl” is, assuming that she’s not a work of fiction.

This is what folks in my profession refer to as a case study, but it is so much more effective and much more personal when presented in the form of a song, by a person outside the profession, who is free from the addiction to psychobabble so many in my day job/day profession (myself at times) fall prey to. As such, make no mistake about it---students in my psychology classes will be studying the song. 

Dave Alvin, the presumed frontman for Dave Alvin and the Guilty Women, takes a back seat, or, if you prefer, rides shotgun in Weight of the World, humbly allowing Christy McWilson, one of the guilty women to take the wheel and deliver the lead vocals. Perhaps he did it out of guilt. Either way, it was a good decision. It builds unpredictability into the offering. Besides, though Dave Alvin’s voice is distinct and rich in character, (especially when he hits those low, baritone notes in a sort of Cashesque recalcitrance), McWilson’s voice is much prettier. 

Boss of the Blues is a bit of bluesy, hillbilly bebop that pays tribute to Joe Turner. The lyrics actually remind me of another boss, “The Boss­Bruce Springsteen,” and his 80s hit, Glory Days. The line, “I was 16 in 1972,” made me feel rather young. I was only 12. That helped relieve some of my guilt over not being as crafty at my craft as he and his Guilty Women apparently are. 

Wait, maybe Alvin isn’t quite so immortal after all. Ostensibly, he’s staking out his burial plot in Potter’s Field, a song showcasing the pristine harmonic blend of Alvin and McWilson’s vocals. This is a quintessential drifter’s ditty. 

River on the Road transports the listener to a nice, relaxing spot in the middle of nowhere. 
It also reminded me that his creative spirit defies age. The song reminds us all that middle-age is just a rebirthing period. Dave Alvin is apparently in the midst of an afflatus with no expiration date in sight. 

These Times we’re Living In, makes every drifter feel connected to something bigger than him/herself. Don’t Make Promises reminded me of how easy it is to make such promises, and how hard it is for the broken hearts of victims of broken promises to heal. 

Finally, the heart-felt folksy cover of Que Sera Sera, every drifters sine qua non, reminds all drifters why we are drifters. Driftwood doesn’t fight the sea, it simply surrenders.

For Bakersfield and Beyond interview, visit:

Bakersfield and Beyond
 
 

 
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