DAVE ALVIN AND PHIL ALVIN
In some ways, Lost Time could serve as the prequel to the Blasters, the iconic blues-driven outfit that Dave and Phil Alvin shared during the heyday of L.A.’s legendary ’80s cowpunk scene. Like a string of white lights in some steamy Texas beer joint, all of the brothers’ influences twinkle and draw you closer to their salty, swaggering takes on Big Joe Turner, Willie Dixon, Lead Belly and Oscar Brown, Jr., as well as the gospel of Reverend Thomas A. Dorsey and the hardcore soul of James Brown. Not intended as some pristine historic tribute, Lost Time feels like the apex of a Saturday night well spent.
With a band that includes drummers Lisa Pankrantz and Lone Justice alum Donn Heffington, bass players Brad Fordham and Bob Glaub, original Blaster Gene Taylor, Wyman Reese and David Witham on piano, the vibe is loose, the emphasis is on slink and sex. Whether it’s the carnal surge of “Cherry Red Blues,” the randy prowler’s delight of “Rattlesnakin’ Daddy” or the Chicago-style stride of “Sit Down, Baby,” there’s a knowing to the business at hand that imbues the songs with that lived-in sense of how it is. There’s no need to push or force; the truth is in the loose grooves, guitar lines that tattoo the melody and a backbeat that thumps with a briskness that sweeps you up. Listening to Phil Alvin, sounding as strong and solid as he did three decades ago, on James Brown’s “Please, Please, Please” is to understand the timeless nature of the blues and its transformative capabilities. Vocal licks rising and rising higher, this is a witness and an exhortation that would do the Godfather of Soul proud.
Sometimes they reinvent what we know. “House of the Rising Sun” is turned into a brighter quick acoustic folk “In New Orleans (Rising Sun Blues),” and “World’s in a Bad Condition” is a Bakersfield quick-stepping take on the Golden Gate Quartet’s gospel. Even the Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil” is foreshadowed in the opening “Mister Kicks” which declares, “Please allow me to introduce myself …” The jukin’ “Hide + Seek” and the finger-picked “Papa’s On the House Top,” meanwhile, are straight-up mirthsome. After the acrimony that tore the Alvins apart in the late ‘80s, this follow-up to their Grammy-nominated Big Bill Broonzy tribute, 2014’s Common Ground, proves once again that music is a place to celebrate shared loves and heal broken relationships. — HOLLY GLEASON