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Dave and Phil Alvin

Common Ground: Dave Alvin + Phil Alvin Play and Sing the Songs of Big Bill Broonzy – 2014 (Yep Roc)

Reviewed by Brian Baker

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As natural as the idea seems, it took a guy named Reese to cram a smear of peanut butter into a hollowed out chunk of chocolate. Similarly, the concept of unleashing the brothers Alvin on the songbook of their earliest blues hero, Big Bill Broonzy, seems so completely right, it's almost tragic that it required Phil's near death experience from an abscessed tooth for a fence-mending reconciliation between him and Dave for their first recording together since The Blasters' "Hard Line" album nearly 30 years ago.

"Common Ground" works on every level; as an Alvin brothers collaboration, as a contemporary tribute to one of the seminal architects of the blues and as a sonic scrapbook detailing the Alvins' stylistic evolution. As a collaboration, Phil's clarion bell voice nestles up to Dave's rough hewn croon and creates a compelling vocal quality.

As a tribute, the Alvins chose the perfect subject, due in large part to the incredible diversity within Broonzy's catalog - from country and folk blues to a more urban, electric variation - and that range is perfectly matched by the Alvins' long, strange musical trip through the blues, punkabilly, country and Tin Pan Alley. Given their love of the source material, the Alvins could have easily done straight readings of these dozen Broonzy tunes (including the country rag bounce of "Saturday Night Rub," the stone blues classic "Key to the Highway," the electric jump of "I Feel So Good"), but they chose songs that represented the songwriter's expansive range and then applied their own broadly focused talents to each in its turn.

As a result, "Common Ground" stands as a brilliant evocation of Big Bill Broonzy's undisputed genius and as an equally potent display of the Alvins' mastery of every musical style they choose to inhabit.