Album Review: Dave Alvin & Jimmy Dale Gilmore - "Downey To Lubbock"

Iconic Americana singer/songwriters collaborate on eccentric, decades-spanning new duo recording

A collaboration between Dave Alvin and Jimmie Dale Gilmore seems unusual, at least upon first glance. Alvin is a deep-voiced singer with extensive electric guitar skills, whereas Gilmore’s voice is far more fragile and quirky. They’re equally talented Americana troubadours; however, they don’t strike one as an obvious duets pair. Nevertheless, Downey to Lubbock is a surprisingly enjoyable project.

Dave Alvin is from Downey, CA and Jimmie Dale Gilmore is from Lubbock, TX, hence the album's name. The songs these two recent touring partners chose to record are mainly covers. The title track is original and biographical, as it highlights each artist’s musical path. The best new song is “Billy the Kid and Geronimo,” an imagined meeting of two iconic American figures. Alvin penned it, and it plays to Alvin’s strengths as a songwriter. Nobody writes musical historical fiction better than Alvin, and this heartfelt backwards glance is rich in factual detail. Listening to it makes you feel like a fly on the wall for an epic – albeit imagined – historical moment.

Another clear album highlight is “The Gardens,” a cover of a Chris Gaffney song. Gaffney was also a longtime Alvin collaborator, and “The Gardens” is a song that has appeared a lot on Alvin’s concert set lists of late. If you’re not from Southern California, you’ll likely not get its meaning. It describes a place where Gaffney grew up called Hawaiian Gardens. However, ‘Hawaiian Gardens’ is an inappropriate name for a city that’s neither Hawaiian nor any sort of garden. Instead, it’s oftentimes best known for its
poverty and crime.

Both Alvin and Gilmore love the blues, which is why a couple of songs by The Memphis Jug Band (“Stealin’ Stealin’” and “K.C. Moan”) are also standouts. The only track that doesn’t fully work is a take on the old 60s peace plea, “Get Together.” It’s sung with good intentions but is just not a good fit for these two performers. It sounds more forced than natural. Mostly, though, Downey to Lubbock is a testament to good taste and well-honed musical skills, with two road warriors still fighting the good fight.