Monday, May 30, 2016

"The Blasters" (1981)

If you sit down and think about the albums that came out in 1981, "The Blasters" is probably not going to be one that comes immediately to mind.  The record sounded out of place back then - solid, basic rock 'n roll, two guitars, bass, piano, drums - but it probably would have sounded out of place in any era, except maybe 1957-58.  But on the other hand, you could argue that Blasters music is timeless music, because there will always be a place for great rock 'n roll, no matter what the trends of the day might say.

They shared (at least at first) a label with X, another band from Los Angeles.  The fact that those two bands could even be considered part of the same broad genre of music is a testament as to why rock is such a glorious medium - a big tent where, at least in theory, everyone can find a home.

If there was any justice in the world, The Blasters would have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame a long time ago, but since we know there isn't we're left to wonder at the miracle of a band that produced in little more than three years a body of work - this album, "Non-Fiction," and "Hard Line" - that can stand proudly with the best of that decade.  And they're still out there, playing shows and making a go of it.  They're in it because for them, it's a way of life.

There are five great cover songs on the album, but as good as they are (and "I Love You So," "I'm Shakin'," and "Stop the Clock" are all amazing) they can't stand a candle to the Dave Alvin originals. When you listen to songs like "Border Radio," "American Music," "This is It," and especially "No Other Girl," what immediately becomes evident is that Alvin is a great songwriter - as tight and concise as these songs are, they tell stories.  Just consider this snippet from "No Other Girl," which I'd argue is their masterpiece:

Waitin' in and all night cafe
Drunk half out of my mind
Down to my last cigarette
Tryin' to kill some time

I don't know why I do it
Spend a day at another girl's place
She knew that when I open the door
She could see by the look on my face

Waitin' for me, she's waitin' for me
No other girl could take it
Another girl'd just give in
Another girl'd throw me out on the street
No other girl would take me back again

But the lyrics are only part of the story.  You need to listen closely to the interplay between Dave and Phil Alvin's guitars, the way the bass and drums propel it all (with some particularly well-timed cymbal crashes), the sheer perfection of the boogie-woogie piano, and the terrific vocal from Phil Alvin - that too tells the story of The Blasters.

There were some pretty great records released in 1981, including one in particular from their Slash label-mate - but there's little doubt that "The Blasters" was one of the best.

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