Common Ground: Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin Play and Sing the Songs of Big Bill Broonzy
Yep Roc

Say Dave and Phil Alvin together again and the knee-jerk thought is rockabilly, a la their landmark early ’80s outfit the Blasters. But this album announces, think again — and get to know the deepest blues roots that made the Blasters so powerful in the first place and that have long informed Dave’s broad and estimable catalog as a solo artist. Cut live in an old-school studio, Common Ground: Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin Play and Sing the Songs of Big Bill Broonzy is like a joyously mesmeric night in God’s own down ’n’ dirty blues bar on the deliciously bad side of the tracks, redolent with authentic smoky and boozy atmosphere, yet at the same time it sounds bracingly fresh for today. Witness “Key to the Highway,” which by now has become such a tired old nag of a blues standard that one never ever wants to hear it again. But the Alvins give it a brisk brush-up that pays homage to Broonzy’s early ’40s recording that inspired the brothers as Southern California teens in the ’60s while also investing it with a fresh spirit all their own. The breadth of Broonzy’s musical range and splendid songs give them a rich palette to work from: double-finger-snapping swing on “I Feel So Good” and “Tomorrow”; country blues that kicks like a mule on “How You Want It Done”; and crackling acoustic/electric blues that summons up Beale Street in the early jazz era (“Big Bill Blues”), a delta squall (“Southern Flood Blues”), and Chicago’s South Side in its prime (“Just A Dream”). The Alvins also bring their propulsive Blasters best to “Trucking Little Woman,” and it sounds like they’re having, well, a total blast. Dave delivers six-string lightning that shows he’s as masterful as any guitar-slinger on the planet, and both sing not just better but cooler than ever, trading lead on some songs and verses on others. And when they do so together on the greasy strutter “Stuff They Call Money,” whoa!

I’m the sort of critic who eschews playing the year-end best game, much more so predicting such picks this early in the year. But this totally badass long-player is already one of 2014’s magnificent musical moments. Common Ground finds the Alvins matching the masters they were weaned on in grit, groove, soul, and razor-wielding ingenuity to ascend to the land of giants. I’m already salivating for what’s next. — ROB PATTERSON

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