Guitarist and songwriter Dave Alvin left the Blasters in 1986, and it wasn't until 2004 that the band, under the leadership of lead vocalist and guitarist Phil Alvin, got around to cutting a new studio album, 4-11-44, so the gap of a mere eight years between that album and 2012's Fun on a Saturday Night seems like a brief intermission by ...
Guitarist and songwriter Dave Alvin left the Blasters in 1986, and it wasn't until 2004 that the band, under the leadership of lead vocalist and guitarist Phil Alvin, got around to cutting a new studio album, 4-11-44, so the gap of a mere eight years between that album and 2012's Fun on a Saturday Night seems like a brief intermission by comparison. 4-11-44 felt uneven, as if this once mighty band lost the muscle and the focus they commanded in their prime, but even though they still don't have a songwriter strong enough to compensate for Dave Alvin's absence, Fun on a Saturday Night is a definite improvement, a great set of classic blues and R&B covers that cuts a solid groove and sounds like these guys are having a hell of a good time. Phil Alvin's voice is a few shades grainier than it once was, but he wails like he means it as he tears into "Rock My Blues Away," "Well Oh Well," and "Love Me with a Feeling" with a joyous abandon. Alvin struts like a bantam rooster as he duets with Exene Cervenka on "Jackson," and reveals you don't necessarily have to be crazy to cover James Brown's "Please, Please, Please." Alvin also sounds convincing when the band slows the tempo on "No More Nights by Myself" and "Penny," and his longtime cohorts, bassist John Bazz and drummer Bill Bateman, have just the right touch for this material, tough when they need to be and easy when the song calls for it. Guitarist Keith Wyatt has impressive chops and the good sense to not make like a show-off, and when the band turns their classic "Marie Marie" into a Mexican folk number on "Maria Maria," the gambit works like a charm. Easily the oddest number here is also the sole original; "Breath of My Love" is a funny but harrowing tale of domestic discord written by Phil Alvin that cuts to the bone and may feature the first recorded instance of a doo wop chorus singing "Nine One One." Fun on a Saturday Night isn't an epochal roots rock statement like the Blasters' best work, but that also doesn't seem to be what the band had in mind for this set; instead, this is four guys playing some songs they love with the skill and smarts of a lifetime devoted to the music, and this is 36 minutes of good rockin' fun that will kick off a Saturday night (or any other night of the week) in high style. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi