Sound Bites DAVE'S BACK: After leaving The Blasters, the seminal L.A. roots-rock band he founded with brother Phil in 1979, Dave Alvin worked briefly with X, then recorded three solo albums between 1987 and 1993. But it was 1994's King of California that thrust Alvin into the Americana spotlight and established him as a bona fide singer-songwriter. His new CD, Blackjack David, follows the same road as King of California: stark, haunting songs powerfully rendered by Alvin's masterful storytelling and evocative, tobacco-charred voice.

In a recent interview, Alvin talked about the new album and his upcoming Tucson show: "Blackjack David opens with the ultimate leaving song (the title cut), then goes through a series of stories about people looking for something--whether it's the people crossing the border in 'California Snow,' the stripper in 'Abilene,' or the blues hedonist in 'New Highway.' Then it ends up with people who never left, or were left behind, like the guys in '1968' and 'From A Kitchen Table.' There's a balance there."

A high point of the album is "California Snow," which Alvin co-wrote with Tom Russell. The song recounts the tragedy of the immigrant experience from the point of view of a Border Patrol agent, and may be the only song ever written which deals with both sides sympathetically.

"It's not a political song," Alvin says. "I wanted to juxtapose the Border Patrol agent, whose life is in a shambles, with the people coming across the border, whose concerns are so basic. The issue's too complicated for sloganeering. The victims and villains aren't so clear cut."

If the characters in many of his songs seem sad, there's good reason. "Someone's gotta do it," he says. "When I look at MTV or VH1, no one's addressing the issues of people living on the margins, people who haven't found the 'good life,' whatever that is. If I thought everyone was doing melancholy songs, I'd start doing surf music."

But if his lyrics are often sad, his music often isn't. "I try to make the music the antithesis of the lyrics. That's what I always did with The Blasters. We'd take a song like 'Border Radio,' which reads like a ballad, and really rock it up. Now, on my records, if it's a sad song, I make it sound sad. But I can still juggle it. In the live shows with the band, it gets pretty exuberant. In the lyrics, it's the same characters and the same songs, but the music becomes the salvation."

As a boy, Alvin traveled throughout the Southwest with his father, a union organizer. They'd make frequent stops in Tucson. "I always look forward to Tucson. It's a beer gig, a place where we can relax and loosen up a bit."

Ex-boxer and former Tucsonan Chris Gaffney--who Alvin calls "one of the great singers in America"--opens the show. At a recent unadvertised show at the Shelter, even the tamale lady stuck around to hear Gaffney's version of "Volver, Volver."

Gaffney and The Cold Hard Facts take the stage at 9 p.m., followed by Alvin and The Guilty Men, on Friday, July 31, at the Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St. Tickets are $10 in advance, $12 at the door. For more information, call 740-0126.

--Jim Carvalho

SETZER SET: The hottest new phenomenon in pop music is something old: swing music. Coming out of a combination of big band and ska, the modern or "neo-swing" sound has audiences blowin' their wigs and jivin' in the aisles.

Brian Setzer, the most tattooed big band leader in history, has made a career out of updating retro styles. As the front man for the Stray Cats, he updated the Memphis rockabilly sound of the '50s. His complex guitar licks added an up-front, jazzy element to the trio's minimalist rhythm section. Hits like "Sexy and Seventeen," "Stray Cat Strut," and "Rock This Town" brought the genre back into vogue in the early '80s, and revived interest for originals like Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis.

Setzer was again ahead of the crowd when he took off down another forgotten musical back alley in 1992. Forming the Brian Setzer Orchestra, he combined Kansas City jump, rock and roll, and big-band swing. He again updated the style by putting his fat Gretsch hollow-body guitar sound front-and-center, where the trumpet or clarinet would've been. Always a formidable picker, Setzer melded a screaming rock sensibility with jazz licks over luscious vamps.

Now with other bands such as Cherry Poppin' Daddies, Royal Crown Revue and Squirrel Nut Zippers turning the style into a full blown movement, Setzer still runs the biggest band around. While most groups have a three- or four-piece horn section, he features the traditional big-band arrangement of five saxophones, four trombones and four trumpets, plus two bass players and a drummer. Touring behind their newly released CD The Dirty Boogie, the Brian Setzer Orchestra can be counted on for banging the beat and making it sweet.

Setzer brings his 17-piece orchestra to the New West, 4385 W. Ina Road, at 7 p.m. Tuesday, August 4. Tickets are $18 in advance at the New West and Dillard's (1-800-638-4253). They'll cost $20 at the door.

--Dave Irwin

LAST NOTES: No matter what frequency your tastes are tuned to, this weekend is rife with options for your listening pleasure.

You say you miss the style of arena rock anthems that U2 forgot when they heard that electronica was the Next Big Thing? Fret not, young soldier, and find your way to the Third Stone, 500 N. Fourth Ave., to witness The Splendor (formerly White Chrome Splendor). The name may be smaller, but the sound is just as big as it ever was. Get there around 10 p.m. Friday, July 31, to catch L.A.'s The Andersons, who definitely have all three Big Star albums in their record collections. Tempe's Naked Chollas fill out the bill, playing the middle slot. Call 628-8844 for more information.

(The two out-of-towners give an acoustic in-store performance at 6 p.m. Friday, at Zia Record Exchange, 3370 E. Speedway. For information, call 327-3340.)

It takes a mighty large noise to fill up the cavernous interior of Nimbus Brewery, 3850 E. 44th St., but if anyone is up to the task, it's the ear-splitting, decibel-pumping sounds of Grimble Wedge. Front man (and Gouramie Records label owner) Mike Panico is one of the nicest, down-to-earth guys you'll ever meet; but when he plugs into a Marshall stack you'd better get a death grip on your pint of ale, as he's taken over by the demon forces of the gods of thunder. Prepare to be bludgeoned into submission. Grimble Wedge takes the stage (or, in Nimbus' case, the floor) on Saturday, August 1, with an opening band still to be announced.

Nimbus also has a stellar night planned for Friday, July 31, as self-proclaimed "retrogressive" rockers Zed kick off Happy Hour in support of their recently released CD, Sitting on a Park Bench. Psychedelta blues master Nervous Duane is up next, followed by new-school desert rockers Creosote. For additional information about either show, call 745-9175.

--Stephen Seigel TW

--Lisa Weeks

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