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MUSIC : Ex-Blaster Returns to the City of His Songs : After a year on the road, a homesick Dave Alvin is back in L.A. He'll be singing for human rights Sunday at the Palomino.

June 19, 1992|STEVE APPLEFORD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Appleford writes regularly about music for The Times

Dave Alvin was just waking up that morning in Oslo, near the end of a full year on the road with his band, when a television broadcast this alarm into his hotel room: "At least 40 buildings in downtown Los Angeles are on fire!"

That was disturbing news for anyone this Norwegian morning, but particularly for Alvin. He had spent most of his life in Los Angeles and had launched an acclaimed musical career there with the Blasters, X and, later, as a solo artist.

"I've never felt so homesick in my life," Alvin says now. "Just about everybody I love and care about is in this city."

But don't expect the singer-songwriter-guitarist to come up with any sort of "Ballad of the L.A. Riots." Alvin has already used his songs to document the sort of general separations between the rich and the desperate that in part led to that recent storm of fire and outrage.

On his recent "Blue Blvd." album, the track "Rich Man's Town" is a rare song by Alvin written specifically about his hometown.

"In a rich man's town," he sings, "nobody sees you as you cry."

Alvin, along with Carla Olson, the Williams Brothers, Marvin Etzioni, the Red Devils and others, will be performing an acoustic set of his songs in a benefit concert for Amnesty International on Sunday night at the Palomino in North Hollywood.

"It helps me feel like I live somewhere, to do things like this that are more about the community," he says.

While at the benefit, Alvin will probably play songs of social comment and romance, new compositions and those written for the Blasters, that powerful roots-rock band he formed with his vocalist brother Phil Alvin in 1979. And much of the material still stems from the first song that really grabbed his attention when he was a youngster, "El Paso" by Marty Robbins.

In a review of Alvin's "Blue Blvd.," released on High Tone Records, Rolling Stone magazine said the album "glows with a pale fire stoked by the rootsy dynamics of Alvin's arrangements and the tender mercy at the heart of his pithy, understated writing."

"When I'm good, I'm good at painting a picture inside a song, which is the wrong thing to do in the age of video," Alvin says, dressed in faded blue and black denims. "If I can describe this room, and make you see this room, I can use this room as a metaphor for a broken heart or something else."


What: Dave Alvin benefit concert for Amnesty International.

Location: The Palomino, 6907 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood.

Hours: 3 p.m. Sunday.

Price: $8.

Call: (818) 764-4010.

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