When Chris Gaffney died, Dave Alvin lost both a close friend and the frontman of his band, the Guilty Men. Alvin formed the Guilty Women to perform at a festival last fall because, he said, he couldn't bear seeing the empty spot onstage where Gaffney used to stand.
The women surrounded Alvin with such ease that he decided to record this album (released in May) and take them all on tour. An empty spot does haunt him, though; violinist Amy Farris died unexpectedly less than a month ago.
This music may seem more poignant because of the backstory, but it stands on its own. Alvin meant to have women back him—no girlies here—and he's turned his always-impressive songwriting chops to some womanly topics.
Former Picketts vocalist Christy McWilson is a Patsy Cline/Rosemary Clooney for the new millennium. Her voice cracks and growls out a patina of hard knocks. Veteran Cindy Cashdollar's steel guitar genius gleams throughout, and first-call country drummer Lisa Pankratz drives a truckload of tempos, from the opening, Cajun booty-shaker, "Marie Marie," through the hot swing of "Boss of the Blues" and the quiet folk of "Potter's Field."
Alvin's most impressive turn is the guitar jam on "Don't Make Promises." It's pointedly testosterone-free, but the technique and the emotion are as powerful as his most macho fireworks.