The poignant journey which culminated in Dave Alvin's new album Dave Alvin & The Guilty Women began on one of those San Francisco fall days that seemed to melt back into the bay fog as slyly as it emerged. Dave Alvin was bounding off the stage at the massive, free Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival. Nearly before he was able to set foot on his beloved California dirt, Alvin was grabbed by friend and Yep Roc label co-founder Glenn Dicker. "We've gotta make a record!"
The reason for Dicker's excitement - and the excitement of the thousands of music fans who just witnessed it - was the set Alvin and all female band The Guilty Women had just laid down moments before. Dave and band members Cindy Cashdollar, Nina Gerber, Laurie Lewis, Christy McWilson, Sarah Brown, Amy Farris and Lisa Pankratz blazed through their set, surprising each other at every turn. "It just felt so natural," says Alvin. "It was like I had been playing with them for a hundred years."
You couldn't tell, watching him on stage that day, but the events in Alvin's life that had led up to it were some of the most trying of his life. Six months before, Guilty Men accordionist Chris Gaffney passed away following a valiant battle with cancer. Gaffney wasn't only the accordionist in Alvin's band, he was his best friend.
As support and well wishes flowed to Gaffney's family from friends and fellow musicians, Alvin set out calling some of the biggest names in roots music to come together to honor is fallen friend. The result, Man of Somebody's Dreams: A Tribute to the Songs of Chris Gaffney will be released by Yep Roc along side Dave Alvin & The Guilty Women on 5/26/09. Artists and friends like Calexico, Los Lobos, Alejandro Escovedo, James McMurtry and many more coalesced for an album of Gaffney songs benefiting his family and the non-profit Hungry for Music, who provide musical instruments to underprivileged children (hungryformusic.org). "The response from the artists was immediate," remarks Alvin. "They all wanted a chance to help Chris' family and most of all, a chance to pay tribute to him and his songs!"
With the catharsis of the tribute album project in tow, Alvin turned his attention to his next musical move. One thing was clear, he knew he wasn't yet ready to record with The Guilty Men again. The wound of Gaffney's death was still too fresh, the space on the stage where he once stood still too empty. Alvin decided now was the time for something new. Knowing Hardly Strictly was just up the tracks, he called friend and Austin-based guitarist Cindy Cashdollar. Cashdollar jumped in with both feet and the other ladies followed suit. Having played together in various incarnations with several Guilty Women in the past, Alvin was confident the chemistry would be right. "The reality that we'd never played together as a group and that there was no time to rehearse before our debut performance didn't bother me at all. I knew that they were all master musicians who could easily handle any sort of song I could throw at them. And that's exactly what they did and they did it effortlessly and beautifully."
The Austin, TX recording sessions progressed in much the same fashion with Christy McWilson contributing two songs, Sarah Brown one and an Amy Farris/Dave Alvin co-write. The tunes were built around Dave's acoustic guitar work, with the ladies surrounding Alvin with an instrumental blanket that made it clear womanly intuition isnâ€™t just an emotional asset but a musical one as well.
The Guilty Women are:
CINDY CASHDOLLAR (steel and lap steel guitar, Weissenborn, Beard resophonic guitar, National Tricone, National Baritone Tricone)
Austin-based Dobro and steel guitarist Cindy Cashdollar's career has taken some surprising twists and turns that have led her to work with many of the leading artists in contemporary music including Rod Stewart, Van Morrison, Ryan Adams, Bob Dylan, Asleep at the Wheel, Garrision Keillor, Marcia Ball, Jorma Kaukonen, Leon Redbone, BeauSoleil, Daniel Lanois, and Redd Volkaert. Cindy's unerring ability to perfectly compliment a song or step out with a tasteful, imaginative, and exciting solo - and to do it in so many musical genres - has made her one of the most in-demand musicians on the American roots music scene.
NINA GERBER (electric guitars)
Nina Gerber's music career began soon after hearing the late singer/songwriter Kate Wolf perform in Sebastopol, CA in the mid seventies. Nina was so inspired by Kate's music that she decided to become a professional accompanist and followed Kate around until she finally hired Nina to play in her band. That collaboration lasted for 8 years, until Kate's death in 1986. Since then, Nina has performed and/or recorded with Karla Bonoff, Eliza Gilkyson, Greg Brown, Nanci Griffith, Lucy Kaplansky, Queen Ida, Terry Garthwaite, Laurie Lewis, and Mollie O'Brien to name a few. Nina has produced and arranged many recordings, as well as 3 of her own CD's.
LAURIE LEWIS (violin, mandolin, harmony vocals)
Laurie Lewis, twice named Female Vocalist of the Year by the International Bluegrass Music Association and a past California fiddle champ, is a pivotal figure in transforming bluegrass music from a regional genre into a truly international musical language. Laurie has carved out a diverse career as a bandleader, songwriter, singer, fiddler, teacher, and producer, playing and singing on the Grammy-winning recording "True Life Blues." She has worked with the all-women "supergroup" Blue Rose; long-time duo partner Tom Rozum; first generation bluegrass pioneer Ralph Stanley; and most recently her own band, the Right Hands.
CHRISTY MCWILSON (lead and harmony vocals)
A musical anomaly in the Pacific Northwest, Seattle's Christy McWilson and her band "The Picketts" stood steadfast against the overwhelming force of Seattle grunge during the 1990s, releasing 2 albums for Rounder Records and one for Popllama. Christy went on to record two solo albums on Hightone Records (both produced by Dave Alvin).
SARAH BROWN (bass)
Bassist and songwriter Sarah Brown's lengthy credits include backing up a "Who's Who" list of blues legends such as Buddy Guy and Albert Collins, working with roots artists such as Dave Alvin, Bill Kirchen and Rosie Flores, and touring with British rockers Billy Bragg, Paul Carrack and Ian McLagan. A winner of numerous awards, she appears on over 60 recordings, including her own CD. Her songs have been recorded by such notables as R&B legend Ruth Brown and New Orleans star Irma Thomas. Sarah makes her home in Austin, Texas.
AMY FARRIS (violin, viola and harmony vocals)
A native of Austin, Texas, Amy started playing violin at age ten. She is a vet of the Austin music scene, playing with artists such as Ray Price, Alejandro Escovedo, Kelly Willis, Bruce Robison and Ray Wylie Hubbard. A longtime fan of Dave Alvin, X, and the Knitters, Amy moved to Los Angeles when Dave offered to produce her first solo CD Anyway, released by Yep Roc in 2004. Dave co-wrote several songs with Amy including the title track, which he re-recorded for the Guilty Women record. Since moving to Los Angeles, Miss Farris has performed and/or recorded with Dave Alvin, Brian Wilson, John Doe, Exene Cervenka, Stan Ridgway, Greg Dulli, Peter Case, and many others. She's also played on the soundtracks of the television shows Mad Men and King of the Hill. She has also performed on The Late Show with David Letterman, Late Night with David Letterman, Austin City Limits, Late Night with Conan O'Brien, The Grand Ol' Opry and Sessions on West 54th St.
LISA PANKRATZ (drums, percussion)
Drummer Lisa Pankratz was born in Austin and raised in Dripping Springs, TX. She began touring with legendary Dallas rock and roller Ronnie Dawson in the early 1990's and in him found a musical soul mate, establishing a national reputation as both a solid and exciting drummer. Since then some of the artists who have called on Lisa's versatile drumming skills include Ronnie Dawson, The Derailers, Rosie Flores, Robbie Fulks, Toni Price, Dale Watson, Deke Dickerson, Marti Brom, Roger Wallace, Bill Kirchen, Billy Joe Shaver, Hayes Carll and Dave Alvin. She has performed on Austin City Limits, Late Night with Conan O'Brien, at the Grand Ole Opry and Carnegie Hall.