Dave Alvin and Phil Alvin
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
The title of the Alvin brothers’ follow-up to their Grammy-nominated 2014 Common Ground reunion project that found them working together for the first time in 30 years is multi-faceted and bittersweet. Clearly they are trying to make up for that lost time after not working together since Dave amicably left the Blasters in 1987. But more than that, these dozen covers are predominantly tunes that were also lost to time. Phil and Dave dig deep to reveal these hidden blues and R&B gems, then polish, rearrange and unleash them with pent up energy, providing the tracks with new leases on life.
Dave’s short yet informative liner notes explain the disc is also a tribute to ’50s blues shouter and Alvin brothers friend Big Joe Turner, whose photo adorns the back cover. Four tracks are Turner covers and it’s no secret that much of Phil’s distinctive singing style dates back to that of Big Joe. But from the opening guitar and walking bass lick of Oscar Brown, Jr.’s demonic “Mr. Kicks” to the closing acoustic gospel of “If You See My Savior” (one of the few times both guys sing on the same tune), it’s clear the brothers are having a blast reviving songs they obviously love and have influenced them for decades.
Not surprisingly Phil does the bulk of the singing. Even after his near-death scare a few years back, he sounds strong, vibrant and often, as on a version of James Brown’s “Please Please Please” that nearly beats the classic original, stronger and more powerful than ever. Old Blasters piano man Gene Taylor makes a welcome guest appearance on the salacious public domain blues of “Rattlesnakin’ Daddy,” one of Dave’s few vocals, while letting Phil display his dynamic harp abilities.
The twosome takes Willie Dixon by way of Otis Rush’s “Sit Down, Baby” down to the swamp with another of Dave’s baritone vocals and knock Turner’s “Wee Baby Blues” out of the park with a wild Dave guitar solo, searing slide work from Chris Miller and Phil’s emotional singing.
This is a blues album, but with styles that range from ragtime to jump with Chicago, Texas and Piedmont thrown in it’s diverse, fresh and rocking. There’s not a weak track in the dozen making this another candidate for blues release of the year from brothers who almost never got to play another note together. Making up for lost time never sounded so good.