Roots rocking brothers Phil and Dave Alvin brought their latest project home with their roof-raising performance Saturday at the Troubadour in West Hollywood highlighting from their album, “Common Ground: Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin Play and Sing the Songs of Big Bill Broonzy.”
The collection scored the Downey natives a blues album nomination in the 2015 Grammy Awards, and whether it earns them statuettes on Feb. 8 at Staples Center when the winners are revealed, their performance demonstrated how fresh and contemporary they’ve made songs recorded by the celebrated blues singer, songwriter and guitarist as far back as the 1920s.
They opened with “All by Myself,” a vibrant duet showcasing Phil Alvin’s remarkably elastic and expressive tenor, trading off with his younger brother’s cigarette-stained baritone.
“We aren’t the Everly Brothers, we’re not the Louvin Brothers, we’re not the Osmond Brothers,” Dave joked early on. But they are brothers, who've had their share of squabbles over the years, but put those gripes aside and recorded their first sibling album after Phil’s health scare several years ago where his heart stopped beating—twice—while he was in the hospital.
Broonzy brought considerable wit and musical variation to his songs, which allowed the Alvins to explore their range from acoustic-rooted numbers to hard-driving electric blues. In fact, they credited Broonzy with what they consider to be the first rockabilly tune, “How You Want It Done,” one recorded a couple of decades before what came to be known as rockabilly flourished in the 1950s.
The Alvins were backed by a powerhouse band, the Guilty Ones, consisting of guitarist Chris Miller, bassist Brad Fordham and drummer Lisa Pankratz, which expertly helped them navigate from smoldering blues to amped-up rock to swaggering R&B.
The vintage Broonzy songs were supplemented by several written by “a minor poet,” as Dave Alvin referred to himself, including “Out of Control” and some enticing snippets of songs shouted out by members of the packed house: “Fourth of July” and “Abilene.”
By the time they got around at the end of the two-hour show to the breakthrough hit for their seminal roots-rock band the Blasters, “Marie Marie,” it felt as much a part of the canon of American roots music as anything Broonzy or other predecessors left behind.
That in itself deserves some kind of award.
The show was recorded by Yahoo! and can be seen here starting at 6 p.m. Pacific time on Feb. 1.
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