Throwback Thursday – Dave Alvin – “King of California”
1. Sometimes all I want to hear is a story. From the moment that Dave Alvin’s “King of California” opens, with its Guthrie-esque flatpicking, a story is woven with more plot than many novels. Plucked from his 1994 album of the same name, Alvin’s mid-90’s creative peak is accentuated by the spare instrumentation. Though he obviously knows how to rock (see the Blasters and X), Alvin’s acoustic guitar is joined tastefully by rolling drums, mandolin, and dobro – which crescendo to highlight his protagonist’s claim to return home a more respected man than when he left.
2. The Steinbeck-like tale finds a man somewhere “east of the Ohio River” who is spurned by his lover’s father, hearing that he cannot marry because he has no money to offer. Our first look at the man’s resilience comes when he heads west, making his first boast to return as the “king of California”. The hero whispers his love’s name as he journeys across formless, hostile lands, until he ends up in gold mining country, “dreaming just how a rich man feels”. Even though the hero’s fate takes a cruel twist and he ends up intertwined with some less than savory characters, Alvin ends every stanza like the ones before, showing that his naive dreamer’s destiny cannot separate him from his dream.