Blues Bytes


October/November 2014

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Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin
Play and Sing: The Songs of Big Bill Broonzy
Yep Rock

Alvin Bros

The last time Dave Alvin and his big brother Phil Alvin recorded together was in 1985 when, following the release of their band the Blasters', release Hard Line, Phil walked off and the Blasters became instantly mytholized. It took this project, resulting in Common Ground - Play and Sing The Songs of Big Bill Broonzy (Yep Rock), to get the brothers back in the studio, and what a glorious reunion it is! . They speak of the impact that Big Bill Broonzy had on their adolescence and continues to hold now. Dave Alvin calls him in the liner notes, “Our shared musical square one. Our common ground.”

The Alvin brothers are more than musical scholars, obviously --- they're first-class musicians. From the opening classic "All By Myself," with skiffle-ish brushes on drums by Don Heffington, the brothers trade vocals accompanied by their exceptional National Steel (Dave) and acoustic (Phil) guitars. The following "I Feel So Good," sung by Dave Alvin and backed by Gene Taylor's rocking piano and rat-a-tat drums from Lisa Pankratz, is notable for breaking down the classic tune to its foundation. This is from the electric period, but is toned down for a closer listen. Phil sits this one out, as well as he does the next, "How You Want It Done," a bawdy folk blues that features Dave Alvin's fiery acoustic guitar work.

Phil's back on the set blowing harp and playing acoustic guitar on "Southern Flood Blues." The instrumental "Big Bill's Blues" is a standout proving that these Alvin boys are more than roots rockers, but are capable of gorgeous, nuanced finger-picking. "Key To The Highway" is a bareback team of the brothers with Don Heffington on drums and Bob Glaub on electric bass. Guitar work, again, is spectacular and Phil's harp paints a train-ish feel to the highway.

"Tomorrow" is a rockabilly stomp that features former Blaster Gene Taylor's piano and Dave's electric guitar. "Just a Dream" is given a hard finger-snapping beat that bemoans that fact that the mermaid wife and million dollars and the winning of the Brooklyn Bridge were gone when our hero awoke. Great guitars, vocals and harp by Phil.

"You've Changed" and, especially "The Stuff They Call Money" are acoustic rockers. "Truckin' Little Woman" is the most fun tune on the set. Phil's vocals and Dave's electric guitar mesmerize. Heffington's drums and Glaub's electric bass speed along with the fellas.

The final tune, "Saturday Night Rub," is unfamiliar to me. The brothers do a finger-picking duo that wraps this gem up in fine style.

One of the standout discs of the year. not just for the reunion factor but for Dave and Phil Alvin's obvious love for the music. This is vital.

--- Mark E. Gallo


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