|Common Ground, Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin
Play and Sing The Songs of Big Bill Broonzy (Yep Roc)
My most anticipated release in a LONG time is out today !!!!!!!!!
2 years ago, we almost lost Phil. On tour in Spain, he started having trouble breathing after a Blasters show in Valencia, and was taken to hospital and flatlined. Twice. He was miraculously brought back... and this is where the story begins.
The Alvins, like most siblings, have had their share of rivalry. In a band situation, especially a band like The Blasters, these feelings will intensify. David wrote the songs. Phil sang them. After a number of years of touring, recording, and just constantly being in each other's hair, David left the band for a solo career. Phil kept the band going, using different guitarists such as Billy Zoom, Hollywood Fats, James Intveld, and Keith Wyatt. Phil also finished his post graduate studies in mathematics. But, the old troubles were always there.
A dozen or so years back, the original Blasters lineup reunited for a tour, live CD and DVD. The tension between the brothers was still clearly visible for all to see. Since then, the brothers have put forth an effort to heal their emotional wounds. Before his health problems in Spain, Phil suffered a knee infection that sidelined him from some tour dates. David filled in for his brother. The brothers would occasionally guest at each other's shows. Things appeared to be on the mend. Dave wrote a well-received song called "What's Up With Your Brother?", which he recorded as a duet with his big brother Phil.
The harsh realization of mortality often brings families together. The brothers worked together, again, on the John Mellencamp/Stephen King musical "Ghost Brothers of Darkland County". This led to the recording of "Common Ground".
Why a tribute record to Big Bill Broonzy? Firstly, why not? Broonzy was one of the blues greats whose history should be not only remembered but celebrated. As both brothers have been life-long fans, and have both been heavily influenced by Broonzy, it also negated the probability of in-studio arguments.
As usual, Dave is playing guitar. Phil is also playing guitar, as well as harmonica. Both brothers sing on this record. Rounded out by former Blasters/Canned Heat/Fabulous Thunderbirds pianist Gene Taylor, Bob Glaub and Brad Fordham on bass, and Don Heffington and legendary rockabilly drummer Lisa Pankratz, the boys have laid down one of the most authentic blues records I've heard in a LONG time! The musicianship is beyond question. The production is spot on. The choice of songs is well thought out, covering all aspects of Broonzy's long and storied career, and performed with love, respect, and originality.
Long story short - there's no sound quite like that of siblings making music together. It adds a special quality. If you're a fan of the blues, The Blasters, either of the Alvin brothers, Big Bill Broonzy, or just in the mood for a good rockin' set of tunes, this disc is for you!
I could go into great detail about each of the 12 songs... but to what point? They're all Broonzy classics. I can't add anything about the songs that hasn't already been said. I remember playing "Key To The Highway" in a blues band when I was 19. I can guarantee you, our version, while hot, didn't touch this version! I could sit here and attempt some critique on the playing or singing, but as I stated, its excellent, top shelf quality... this is the band you wish you could go and hear every weekend. No, the best I can provide you are mere details and the strong suggestion that you get yourself a copy. Yep Rock has even issued a limited edition 12" vinyl pressing, complete with a different cover that has the look of a classic record that has spent decades in your collection. Regardless of the format, this release will not only spend decades in your collection, it will, most likely, spend ample time being listened to and enjoyed by millions.
If all of this isn't enough, the Alvin boys have been performing together again, and are embarking on a tour to promote this disc. I hope they make it here to my town! If you run into the boys on the road, tell them I said 'Howdy!' and find them some Polish food. They'll thank you for it!
What are waiting for? Go get yourself a copy!
Available through Amazon, iTunes, and Yep Rock Records. For the stylish dresser out there, there's also a commemorative pewter belt buckle!
Reviewed by Memphis Mike, 2014