Billy Cobham was fresh from his success with the Mahavishnu Orchestra when he recorded his debut album, which is still his best. Most of the selections showcase Cobham in a quartet with keyboardist Jan Hammer, guitarist Tommy Bolin, and electric bassist Lee Sklar. Two other numbers include Joe Farrell on flute and soprano and trumpeter Jimmy Owens with guitarist John Tropea, Hammer, bassist Ron Carter, and Ray Barretto on congas. The generally high-quality compositions (which include "Red Baron") make this fusion set a standout, a strong mixture of rock-ish rhythms and jazz improvising.
Dave Alvin summed up his work as well as anyone could when he quipped, "There are two types of folk music: quiet folk music and loud folk music. I play both." Alvin shows off his skill on both sides of the volume divide on 2011's Eleven Eleven, where he reaffirms his status as one of the best and most distinctive American songwriters alive. There are few artists who can match Alvin's gift for creating vivid characters and bringing their lives to life through music, and Eleven Eleven finds him near the top of his game as a tunesmith, while also showing off his estimable skills as a guitarist. Whether he's digging into the dirty details of Johnny Ace's death in 1954, embodying a man who may kill a powerful politician for money, focusing his powers of seduction on one woman in a dirty nightgown, or swapping stories of an old friend's adventures on both sides of the law, Alvin's lyrics give the people he sings about depth and detail, and they're crafted with the skill of a talented novelist. Alvin also knows what sort of background to give to these stories, and the spectral guitar and accordion accompaniment of "No Worries Mija" feels just as right as the bluesy Bo Diddley stomp of "Run Conejo Run," and Alvin's electric guitar solos -- crisp, sharp, and bracing -- are as potent as he's been in years. And longtime fans will get a special kick out of "What's Up with Your Brother?," in which he swaps verses with his brother and former bandmate Phil Alvin and pokes fun at their combative reputation. Hearing Dave Alvin at work is to hear a man who is both a poet and a craftsman and remarkably gifted at both; Eleven Eleven shows he's a long way away from running out of ideas, and these 11 portraits of life in the Golden State are engrossing, thoughtful music that should satisfy old fans and engage those introducing themselves to his work for the first time.