Dave and Phil Alvin – Common Ground (the songs of Big Bill Broonzy)

Alvin Dave and Phil 302

Yep Roc

Americana legends go back to their Blues Roots


        I’d guess most Americana and Alt. Country fans will have at least one Dave Alvin album in their collection and the older ones will no doubt cite the Alvin Brothers band, The Blasters as one of the greatest and certainly influential bands of all time in those genres. The brothers famously fell out and didn’t speak to or contact each other for several years; who knows or cares why; but they did and the world was possibly a worse place because of it. Then in 2012 elder brother Phil had a brush with death and as these things happen; it brought the brothers back together again and an album was discussed. Who’d have guessed it but the only thing they could agree on was their mutual love of Big Bill Broonzy; and a reworking of his Blues tunes is the result.

When something like this is so long in the works I tend to press ‘play’ with some trepidation, and that was the case here and I have to say I was quite underwhelmed with the first few tracks the first time I heard them. I knew this wasn’t going to be a Blasters album; but the Countrified re-working of Broonzy’s Chicago Blues has taken some getting used to.

Opening track All By Myself features both brothers on alternate verses and works in its own way; especially the charming guitar and Dobro picking; and I Feel So Good which follows; just sounds like a trademark Dave Alvin track; and not a special one.

Over the years I’ve lost count of the versions of Key to the Highway that I’ve heard from Hard Rock to raw Delta Blues and this version tips it’s hat to the original more than most with some exquisite harmonica playing halfway through and I actually prefer Phil’s verses more than Dave’s which was a bit of a surprise.

You’ve Changed is in a similar vein with Dave sounding like he always does (which isn’t a bad thing at all) and the guitar playing is as sharp as tack; but you get the feeling that Phil’s deeper voice would have been more suited.

I’ve enjoyed COMMON GROUND a lot but can’t help thinking it’s been a bit of an opportunity lost; as no matter how revered Big Bill Broonzy is in Blues circles apart from Key to the Highway the rest of the songs aren’t quite memorable enough; when compared to Dave Alvin’s back catalogue and the memories of the Blasters in their pomp.


Released September 2014


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