Not the Chipmunk

Well I'm leavin' this morning, baby,
ridin' that new highway,
Yeah, I'm leavin' this morning, baby,
ridin' that new highway,
And the more you cry, the more
you're gonna drive me away.

These lines are from a bluesy cut called "New Highway" on Blackjack David, the fine new HighTone album by Blasters co-founder and former X man Dave Alvin. But how many new highways can there be left--in this country, at least--for Alvin? He's been on a trek that's covered 11 years since his solo debut, Romeo's Escape, and a fair amount of the interstate pavement in America.

Like Alvin's 1994 release, the live album Interstate City, Blackjack David reflects this itchy-feet preoccupation--it's overflowing with wistful road imagery, weary, wistful travelers, leave-takings both bitter and sweet. There are two brushes with schmaltz--"Evening Blues" and "From a Kitchen Table"--but every other cut on the album is a low-key gem. The songs range in style from old-fashioned blues--"Laurel Lynn" and the aforementioned "New Highway"--to old-fashioned country--"The Way You Say Good-bye." There's even some Springsteenish rock with "Abilene," but Alvin's strongest interest here seems to be classic-school folk.

The disc's first and title cut is Alvin's superb treatment of the traditional "Blackjack David." "1968" (written with Chris Gaffney) recalls Woody Guthrie or John Stewart, "Tall Trees" (performed with Fontaine Brown) makes terrific use of the tension between its innocuous-sounding lyric and its ominous, spooky-backwoods rhythm, and "Mary Brown" is a terrific, brooding modern version of a tragic love ballad in the "Barbara Allan" mode.

It's been pointed out that Alvin, though a near-virtuoso guitarist, is no singer. But the folkie idiom turns this deficiency into a strength--the vocals have such a ring of dust-bowl authenticity that it's almost a disappointment to find out where Alvin's actually from--Downey, California.

--M. V. Moorhead

Dave Alvin and the Guilty Men are scheduled to perform on Thursday, July 30, at the Rhythm Room, 1019 East Indian School. Flathead opens the show at 9 p.m. The cover is $9. 265-4842.