Dave Alvin at Cherokee Blues Club

By Bryan E. Hurst

There's something about Dave Alvin's voice that conjures up images of railroad tracks and distant train whistles. And okay, maybe the tracks near my house ran by a nondescript strip mall instead of a dusty western town, but put King of California or Blue Blvd. in the CD player and, for a little while, I feel like my boyhood home was Stockton or Bakersfield, not St. Matthews.

Alvin and his band, the Guilty Men, brought a little California to Bardstown Rd. and the Cherokee Blues Club (a.k.a. "The Club Formerly Known as Tewligans"). If the Cherokee management is trying to bridge the gap between the old Tewligans' alternative rock crowd and its own blues faithful, it couldn't have picked a better show; as Alvin said, "Doesn't matter if it's George Jones or Lightnin' Hopkins, it's all blues."

The evening had a laid-back start, with Alvin on acoustic and drummer Bobby Lloyd Higgs using brushes on the quietly haunting "King of California." But a few songs later, before you could say"unplugged" and after a ripping solo recital of "East Texas Blues," Alvin strapped on his Strat and he and the band revved into two hours of high-octane roots/western/blues/country you-give-it-a-name rock, mostly from the previously mentioned two albums and 1993's Museum of Heart and reaching back to Alvin's days with the seminal roots band the Blasters.

Alvin couldn't have asked for a better band – not only are Higgs, bassist Gregory Boaz and keyboardist Rick Solem outstanding musicians, their love of the music was obvious and infectious. Higgs and the inscrutable Boaz (he could pass for one of the Darling Brothers on the Andy Griffith Show) kept all the ravers flyin' free but firmly anchored and still trod gently and tastefully on the quieter numbers. And Solem's command of styles ranged from the Jerry Lee Lewis barrelhouse rocker "Wanda and Duane" to some tasty Thelonius Monk-like meanderings on "Thirty Dollar Room."

But this night belonged to Alvin, from the moment he took the stage in his weathered leather jacket and greeted the audience with that lovable croak of a voice. I'm a big Dwight Yoakam fan, but "Long White Cadillac" is Alvin's song. And great as X's version of "Fourth of July" was, through Alvin's voice the song became transcendent.

Due to a scheduling conflict on my part, I missed most of Warren Ray's opening set. Unfortunately, it looked as if a lot of other people did, too. Warren is one of this area's finest songwriters and while I prefer hearing him with a group, his solo shows are worth checking out as well.