Dave Alvin and Jimmie Dale Gilmore don’t immediately make for the most obvious of pairings. Alvin is the mellow singer-songwriter and founding guitarist for the 80’s SoCal roots rockers the Blasters. Gilmore, over a decade his senior, is the hard-scrabble Texas songwriter best known as a member for the short-lived West Texas hippie-country pioneers the Flatlanders. But the two longtime friends decided to record an album togetherafter a brief co-headlining tour in 2017.
The result, Downey to Lubbock, is a delightful surprise to fans of the Americana veterans, and a fascinating roots music excavation that merges Delta blues, Western swing and early rock & roll.
Gilmore and Alvin trade off vocals on this majority-covers LP, singing songs by everyone from Woody Guthrie to Fifties and Sixties R&B star Lloyd Price, as Alvin’s resonant baritone provides a gentle counterweight to Gilmore’s high-lonesome Texas moan. Highlights include their aching cover of former Kingston Trio singer John Stewart’s 1969 “July, You’re a Woman,” and the conjunto-influenced rendition of Chris Gafney’s “The Gardens.”
The album’s two originals are both shining moments. The title track traces the two singer’s origin stories with a well-earned bravado and witty self-consciousness, while “Billy the Kid and Geronimo” is a moving tale of redemption written by Alvin that serves as a fitting bookend towards the end of the LP.
For the most part, Downey to Lubbock serves, simply, as a lesson in roots blending, a conceptual covers records that splits the difference between Bakersfield and Amarillo. The first (of hopefully more) efforts from Gilmore and Alvin is, indeed, a love letter to their theoretically distinct musical upbringings that ultimately celebrates just how many deep musical roots the two singers ultimately shar