Artist: Dave and Phil Alvin
Album: Lost Time
Label: Yep Roc
Release Date: 09/18/2015
Why stop when you’ve got a good thing going? The reunion of brothers Alvin after thirty contentious years apart earned them Grammy and Blues Award nominations and packed shows for Common Ground: Dave Alvin and Phil Alvin Play and Sing the Songs of Big Bill Broonzy last year. So this is the encore – hopefully the first of several, as Dave and Phil seem even more inspired on this outing, which pays tribute to many of their early blues influences. This is an even stronger record. While the Broonzy album was a mix that leaned more toward acoustic, Lost Time sizzles with Dave’s electric leads and Phil’s booming voice. Four of these tracks are for their mentor, “The Blues Shouter” Big Joe Turner, and there are not many singers alive today that can convey them with the impact that Phil does.
The album covers an expansive range from Lead Belly to James Brown and even gospel artist Thomas A. Dorsey. The adage “lost time” refers obviously both to the time lost between the two of them and the seldom heard blues artists. The brothers are backed by Dave’s road band, The Guilty Ones, and augmented by different keyboard players on select cuts. Guitarist Chris Miller blends well with Dave on acoustic, slide and second lead. Oscar Brown’s “Mister Kicks” opens with Dave’s distinctively recognizable guitar and the energy level stays in high gear throughout. Phil takes the lead vocals on six of the dozen tracks, Dave on three, with the other three shared. Phil’s harp is heard on four tunes and is especially strong on Willie Dixon’s “Sit Down Baby.” Together, the brothers find a groove that hits just the right balance between swagger and respect. Dave and Phil transform these would-be cover tunes by injecting their own vocal nuances and signature guitar accents. It’s not about emulation, but more about adventurous admiration– Alvin style.
I have always enjoyed Dave’s writing, whether in song lyrics or liner notes, and appreciate this passage: “We tried our best to honor all these magnificent musicians, songwriters and singers as well as expose them to new listeners and perhaps raise some ghosts up from their graves for a minute or two. And, hopefully, my brother and I have also again found some damn lost time.”
Phil had a near brush with death three years ago, but his voice sounds as good as ever. Let’s hope their partnership endures, and that they can win an award this time. In the meantime, you can witness first- hand the joy they have playing together and hear Dave’s engaging banter between songs as they tour throughout the fall. Check them out at New York City’s City Winery on 10/20.