Alvin Youngblood Hart
Good folk singers and blues musicians know their history; better ones are confident enough in their talents to mess around with it. Firmly in the latter category, Alvin Youngblood Hart is a virtuoso on guitar, dobro, and lap steel who happily jumps across musical boundaries: At one of his recent San Francisco shows, the former Oakland resident (he's since moved to Memphis) was calling up Leadbelly, the Louvin Brothers, "Gallows Pole," and the Rolling Stones in equal measure. The proud owner of a rich and booming voice, he gives the songs on his second album, Territory, an authentic feel without sounding coldly archival, breathing life into old standards like "John Hardy" and his own original homages to country blues. And there's room left over for a headlong leap into absurdist Americana, with a searing cover of Captain Beefheart's "Ice Rose."
Much like the ballads on The Anthology of American Folk Music that plainly influence him, Hart's best moments are the scariest ones, like his extended tale of a racist murder in the South, "Countrycide," sustaining the moody, dramatic feel for nearly 10 minutes. As poetic and romantically American as a WPA guide, he maps out Southern musical highways you thought were left for dead, or worse, for musicologists.
-- Mark Athitakis
Alvin Youngblood Hart plays Friday, Sept. 18, at 8:30 and 10:30 p.m. at Biscuits & Blues, 401 Mason. Tickets are $12.50; call 292-BLUE. He also appears Tuesday, Sept. 22, at 8 p.m. at the Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse, 1111 Addison, Berkeley. Tickets are $13.50-14.50; call (510) 548-1761.