The album is Dave Alvin’s 2011 release Eleven Eleven.
The first track on the album is “Harlan County Line,” In this song, Alvin reminisces about an old lover whom he has fond memories of who left him to take care of “trouble she had to handle back home.” The song refers to her father who was a “union man down in the mines” across the Harlan County Line. As the rambler narrator moves about his way in his life, he wonders if she is still living across that county line.
The second track, “Johnny Ace is Dead,” recalls the death of R&B singer John Marshall Alexander Jr. aka “Johnny Ace” who died on Christmas Day 1954 in Houston, TX while playing Russian Roulette. The song narrates the story of his death outside of his show up through his funeral back home in Memphis.
Alvin slows things down on “Black Rose of Texas” where he wishes peace to a troubled soul who had always yearned for peace. The song seems to indicate that the individual in question had died, but never makes it entirely clear, leaving the possibility that she had merely left behind her troubled life for something better.
The next standout track is the seventh song on the album, “What’s Up With Your Brother,” which is a duet with his brother, and former Blasters bandmate, Phil Alvin. The song is a re-uniting between the two brothers (who in 2014 put out a collaborative album together called Common Ground which was nominated for a Grammy) who had parted ways when Dave left The Blasters. In the song, the two brothers discuss how no matter where they go, all anybody wants to know is “what’s up with your brother,” jokingly lamenting that this will go on until they reach “either the fires of hell or the Pearly Gates.” The chemistry between the brothers is great and really a lot of fun to listen to.
Next up is “Murrietta’s Head,” (video below) a song about a bounty on a wanted criminal. The governor offers a $3,000 dollar reward and wants the criminal dead, not alive, and the singer tells a group of friends to saddle up and that they are going after him. In the song, the singer laments on his poverty and how it lead to his child’s death due to an inability to pay for medicine, and that he needs the reward money for his family.
This album is a masterpiece. Alvin is one of my favorite singers, and I was lucky enough to see him perform a few weeks back with his brother. He puts on a great show.
I can’t recommend this album enough.