Even dilettantes know to trot out a name like Dave Alvin when the discussion turns to American roots music, but anyone caring to dig a bit deeper into the subject would do well to follow Alvin's sharp eye as it roams across the musical landscape. That or just follow the release schedule of Oakland, California's Hightone Records, home of everyone from Alvin to surfmeister Dick Dale.
The two sensibilities combined when Hightone released the Alvin-produced debut of Cali's Big Sandy and his Fly-Rite Boys -- Jumping from 6 to 6 -- earlier this year. It's a little gem of a record, not because it's terribly important in the overall scheme of things, not because it's going to make any sort of commercial splash and not because you've never heard anything like it before. It's a gem of a record in the sense that some arts are common, some are dying, and when a stylish practitioner of one of those arts headed for the grave comes across the desk, you save it a place in the permanent collection, because you never know when this might be exactly what you want to hear, but you want to have it close at hand when the time comes.
The dying art practiced by Mr. Sandy and his Fly-Rite Boys is rockabilly, heavy on the swing and not neglecting the country. They play it complete with bass fiddle, steel guitar and a fat Gibson acoustic slung around the corpulent middle of Big Sandy, a.k.a. Robert Williams, and they bring it alive in covers (the blistering version of O. Ervin's title cut that leads off the record, Jimmy Reed's "When I Found You," Hank Williams' "Weary Blues From Waitin'" and originals (steel player Lee Jeffries' "Barnyard Beatnik" and Williams' own "Different Girl").
"Different Girl" (the singer's had one for every night his sweetheart's been gone) has made at least two female acquaintances wince since the disc took up residence in my CD player, but I say you take the retro stuff -- if you take to it -- warts and all. It is, after all, music aimed at the feet, not the head, and when my friends ask me just what it might be that I find so appealing about the record, and the prospect of Big Sandy live, I can't do any better than to explain the unexplainable to them: it swings.
-- Brad Tyer
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Big Sandy and his Fly-Rite Boys play the Satellite Lounge at 9:30 p.m., Thursday, September 15. Tickets cost $4. Call 869-COOL for info.
* B.B. King, Little Feat and Dr. John at the Arena Theater, Thursday, September 15
* Kenny Neal at Billy Blues, Friday, September 16
* David Lindley at McGonigel's Mucky Duck, Monday, September 19
* Jimmy Buffet and The Iguanas at Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, Tuesday, September 20 and Wednesday, September 21
* "Skamageddon" with MU330 and Buck o' Nine at the Abyss, Wednesday, September 21