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The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

Genre Blues: Award-winning guitarist Alvin Youngblood Hart brings innovative, yet often pigeonholed, tunes to Dave’s Friday

C. Kola | Courtesy Photo

Alvin Youngblood Hart plays electric guitar with his band Alvin Youngblood Hart’s Muscle Theory. Hart has played at Dave’s in the past and said he values his time spent on the stage playing both electric and acoustic guitar. 

Alvin Youngblood Hart, or at least his music, is misunderstood. Reviewers label almost all of his music, whether acoustic or electric guitar-playing, as blues. According to the biography on his website, his sophomore album, “Territory,” won the Downbeat Magazine Critics Poll Award for Best Blues Album, although “‘Territory’ is not a blues album.” The biography also notes that Hart won multiple awards — including Best Traditional Blues Artist — at the 1997 W.C. Handy Blues Awards, and BBC named his 1999 album “Start with the Soul” Blues Record of the Year, though the biography describes the album as “a new-breed Southern rock classic.”

Hart recognizes the dissonance between his own perceptions of his music and the way publications and critics label his work. Hart said though others pigeonhole his music, he works under no constraints and for him, music is simply about the opportunity to perform.

“A lot of people like to throw me under that blues label, but I don’t really prescribe that,” he said. “I can, play it in my own way, and it’s just a limiting factor when it comes to playing music. Most things I do are not under that banner but just, again, it’s all about playing music.”

Hart said he experiments when he plays guitar without considering confining genre labels.

“I just kind of play whatever comes along,” he said. “I play the guitar, blues, rock ‘n’ roll. It was just kind of all about that. My inspiration came from a lot of guitar players.”

Hart’s restraint-free approach to music parallels the array of music he said he listened to during his first 12 years of life in 1960s Oakland, Calif.

“As far as music, growing up in the ’60s you got a well-balanced diet of music between my parents, older brothers, whatever was going on at the time,” he said. 

Hart said part of the diversity of musical styles he heard came from life in southern California, but parts of his musical heritage also stemmed from his parents, who migrated from Mississippi to California. 

“There was a lot of music going around in those days, you know, particularly in the San Francisco Bay area, but you know, my parents’ generation and all — as they emigrated out — it wasn’t like they left everything back home behind,” he said. “Music was there.” 

Hart said his varied musical influences range from the music his parents carried over from Mississippi to Beatles cartoons on TV. Though Hart’s catalog includes ample experimentation and takes twists and turns with each release, Hart said he has only one criteria for the songs he writes. 

“I just try to write something that I can stand to listen to,” he said. 

Hart writes the music on his albums, but Hart said he did not imagine himself as a songwriter until he attempted to break into the music business and realized writing his own songs was his only way to release records. He was primarily raised as a guitar player and, as a result, his first priority is to perform live and play music.

Hart said he thinks about his performances the same way he thinks about his recorded music — he steps onstage ready to play without definite notions of what the songs that emanate from the amplifiers will sound like. 

“I may get up there and play some electric music, play some ska — anything — country, you know, whatever,” he said.

Since he has both acoustic and electric albums under his belt, Hart tours in both fashions. Sometimes he tours alone with an acoustic guitar and other times, like this Friday, he tours with a plugged-in band as Alvin Youngblood Hart’s Muscle Theory. 

Dave Hood, owner of Dave’s Dark Horse Tavern, said he hopes to see Hart’s face at the venue more frequently. 

“Hart enjoyed playing at the Tavern last spring, so now we’re trying to see if we can make it work about once a semester,” he said. 

Hood said Hart’s performances should not be missed, as they enthrall and enrapture attendees. 

“Hart puts on a fantastic show with an extremely powerful, positive vibe,” he said. 

Hart’s performance promises to be energetic and soulful, but, as he said, it is not a blues show. His performances are instead an amalgamation of the influences that molded him, and he continues to explore — whether it be garage, rock ‘n’ roll, country and even a bit of blues.

Hart performs at Dave’s Friday at 10 p.m. 

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The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University
Genre Blues: Award-winning guitarist Alvin Youngblood Hart brings innovative, yet often pigeonholed, tunes to Dave’s Friday