Although the six members of Red Meat live in and around San Francisco, they don’t seem to have settled in there. Made up mostly of displaced Midwesterners, the band emphasizes the sense of home, of indelible place, that traditional country music holds onto, the way a drifter keeps an old sweetheart’s photograph in his wallet.
Few musicians in similar circumstances carry off this theme as though they both understand and feel it. Alameda County Line proves Red Meat never pulls up its roots, no matter how far the branches reach. In note-perfect evocations of homesickness such as “Midwest Blues” and the title track, the ache of wanderlust guides the musicians; they know where they want to go, and create excellent music for the journey.
Yet Alameda County Line brings the best of country experience wherever it travels. Red Meat parties and pines with equal vigor. The two-step swing of “Catfish Fry” and the slow-burning, forbidden love of “Sweet Song” promise as much joy as the steel guitar laments of “Mr. Heartache” and “Lolita” promise misery. In between sits “Under The Wrench”, an automotive tale that fills in the wryly mocking woe-is-me angle without which no honky-tonk could be complete.
Produced by Dave Alvin with modern clarity — no samples of vinyl crackle or slapback echoes of classic eras — Alameda County Line recalls Bakersfield and Opry-glory Nashville without copying either. By the time a fine pair of unlisted live tracks cue up, Red Meat has long since found its heart, and thus its home.