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Review: Dave Alvin and Jimmie Dale Gilmore Explore Shared Roots on ‘Downey to Lubbock’

A California roots-rock veteran and a Texas country pioneer excavate Western swing, blues and early rock and roll.

Daniel Jackson

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

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