Man, this one brought back memories. I was a DJ when the first Blasters album was released in the early ’80s. At that time, I was allowed to pick “night” cuts – stuff you knew wouldn’t be a big hit. I could throw in one every hour after 8 p.m. or so, just to spice things up. When “I’m Shakin'” showed up, it knocked my socks off. A piece of sax-driven blues-rock that featured singer Phil Alvin at his swaggering best. I added it, and got some funny looks from my program director, who nonetheless stuck with me. And we took some phone calls about it. Folks who wanted to hear their Styx and Journey were not real happy.
I, of course, immediately bought the first Blasters album, and it restored my faith in rock and roll, which at this time was wavering. This sounded like a rock and roll band that meant it. Whether it was Elvis or Carl Perkins-style rockabilly, raucous blues-driven workouts, or country-tinged tales, they knew where the music came from and stuck to the feel.
This two-disc set represents all four Blasters albums well. You can follow the path of the band growing up. You can see Dave Alvin, the bands’ lead guitarist and songwriter, grow into one of the best songwriters on today’s scene. Always smart, always rocking, he goes from the minimalist genius of “Marie, Marie” to the killer swamp guitar of “Dark Knight.” You can also hear Phil Alvin’s confindence grow as he yelps, hollers, and groans through the 52 cuts.
All the biggies are here, like “Marie, Marie,” “Border Radio,” and the best song ever about this country’s contribution to art, “American Music,” the New Orleans-tinged “Hollywood Bed,” the amazing “Jubilee Train,” the country hit for Dwight Yoakam, “Long White Cadillac,” along with “Trouble Bound” and “Samson and Delilah.”
For folks who’ve been trying to put the Blasters stuff together, there’s some rare stuff, too, including movie soundtrack cuts like “One Bad Stud” and “Blue Shadows.” And there are some additions to the live EP from ’82 that didn’t make the cut back then. And it’s amazing stuff.
If you want to see how they can rock, check out the previously unissued “Crazy Baby,” “Got Love If You Want It,” and “Walkin’ With Mr. Lee.” Things wrap up with what sounds like a cassette recording of Phil and Dave doing “Take Out Some Insurance” live back in ’85.
As you perhaps can tell, I loved this band. You have to remember, at this time in rock history, there wasn’t a “roots rock” movement. But here came this band, roaring out of California, playing the real stuff like their lives depended on it.
With any justice, they’d have had huge hits and gone on. Instead, they splintered – but not before leaving this wonderful batch of music. If you didn’t catch it the first time around, do it now. This is two discs of rock and roll bliss.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s June ’02 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.