The Blasters – Collection

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

There is a strain of self-satisfaction to the Blasters that I find off-putting. They seem so PROUD to be doing the VERY IMPORTANT work of maintaining roots rock, and aggressively disdainful of anyone who doesn’t APPRECIATE their COMMITMENT. I mean, the music is sometimes very strong, Dave Alvin is an excellent guitarist and can write a good song, Phil Alvin’s voice is one in a million, and the rest of the band is unquestionably tight. I basically like what they do – I am just not so sure I like how they do it. Phil Alvin, by the way, has a master’s degree in mathematics and artificial intelligence. Dave Alvin, of course, joined X for one album.

What I Think of This Album

This collection earns my respect right off the bat by not starting with the obvious choice of “American Music.” Also, there are not nearly as many covers as I expected (though there are several); this could have easily turned into “look at how many obscure rockabilly songs we’ve treated so lovingly.” This comp gather tracks from the Blasters’ three albums and one EP on the Slash label, with some unreleased songs tossed in.

The highlights include the incomparable “Marie, Marie,” where everything comes together perfectly:  a modernized retro sound; Phil Alvin’s impassioned vocal, which breaks in just the right way and in just the right spots; a great guitar part by Dave Alvin, including two solos (and two quick, very fun descending riffs); a top tier melody and classic teen lyrics; and strong playing by the rhythm section. Pianist Gene Taylor gets a showcase on rockabilly number “No Other Girl.” Meanwhile, “Border Radio” hearkens back to the days when Mexican radio stations gave American listeners what they were deprived of at home due to stricter attitudes about what was appropriate for the airwaves:  rock ‘n’ roll, blues, and true country.

Band anthem “American Music” is undeniably great, with a surprisingly straight vocal and another red-hot guitar part, as well as some fine piano playing. The saxes (courtesy of future [Los] Lobo Steve Berlin and New Orleans legend Lee Allen) finally come in on the eye-opening, rocket-fueled party tune “So Long Baby Goodbye,” which starts off with the Greatest Harmonica Intro ever, courtesy of Phil Alvin. I watched a video of a 1982 live performance of this and drummer Bill Bateman was a fucking dynamo. Dwight Yoakam had a hit with the Hank Williams death tale “Long White Cadillac,” on which Phil Alvin does a great job with the vocal. There is a strong last gasp on “Kathleen,” a hopped-up tune with some infectious sax riffs and impressively nimble work on the 88s, as well as a solid lead part from Dave Alvin; why this was unreleased is beyond me – it buries much of what is on this album. Taylor again kicks ass on “Cry for Me.” Beyond that, Taylor outdoes Dave Alvin’s barbed interjections on “Red Rose,” which is sort of the less fun cousin of “Marie, Marie.”

The blues make a late showing in the angry, justifiably cynical “Common Man,” which takes politicians of a certain stripe to task (the song debuted during the Reagan administration, just so you know). The cover of “Justine” is recommended only for the piano and the drumming, and likewise, Taylor is all that you will take away from “Trouble Bound” (though Dave Alvin’s guitar playing is pretty good). The guitar on “Dark Night” is worth a listen. The live cover of “Roll ‘Em Pete” is a little annoying (Phil Alvin’s vocal and the unnecessary sax solo vie for worst offender), but Taylor plays the shit out of the piano. I should note that Phil Alvin’s vocal affectations are just too much to bear on the slinky cover of “I’m Shakin’;” the whole thing ends up sounding like “Minnie the Moocher” drunk on moonshine.

Gene Taylor died of hypothermia in 2021, the result of the Texas power crisis. Lee Allen, who had played with Fats Domino and Little Richard, passed in 1994.

The Best Thing About This Album

The combo of harmonica and sax on “So Long Baby Goodbye,” though clearly Gene Taylor is the unsung hero of this band.

Release Date

March, 1991

The Cover Art

Yeah, they didn’t even try with this. A failure in every conceivable way (though I should acknowledge that the uploaded image is washed out; the original is a deeper black with a blue tinge).

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