Still a blast
Brothers Dave and Phil Alvin continue to make up for the 30 years they spent apart after the breakup of the Blasters by releasing their second album of blues-based rock in two years. While 2014’s album focused on the work of Big Bill Broonzy, Lost Time features several songs by Big Joe Turner as well as tracks by Leadbelly, Blind Boy Fuller, and other aces. The variety of material makes this disc even better than last year’s Best Blues Album Grammy nominee, or maybe it’s just because the duo have become more comfortable performing together? Whatever the reason, the pleasures of the new record are broad and deep.
For example, the Turner covers show why many believe the fat man to be the true originator of rock ‘n’ roll. The Alvin brothers turn his “Hide and Seek” into a rave up that begs for a sawdust covered dance floor. The song just jumps, as does their take on Turner’s “Feeling Happy”. Meanwhile, their rendition of “Wee Baby Blues” just burns. They make a simple line such as “You sure look good to me” sound downright nasty when accompanied by wild guitar licks. Big Joe served as a mentor to the brothers when they were just teenagers in California, and they do justice to his memory and influence.
Not everything is fun and games here. The two take a pair of gospel tunes and sincerely perform them. Their quiet acoustic version of Thomas Dorsey’s “If You See My Savior” comes off as reverent and honorable, while the more raucous preaching against the hypocrites of the world, “World’s in a Bad Condition”, is as timely now as it was back when first recorded back in during the Great Depression.
The Alvin brothers share singing and guitar duties and are joined by Lisa Pankratz (drums), Brad Fordham (bass), and Chris Miller (guitar). The band does a good job of playing with each other, adding licks on top of licks to keep things moving. On tracks like “Rattlesnakin’ Daddy”, you can feel the rattlin’ of the transportation that serves as a sexual metaphor. “I can rattle real slow / baby I can rattle real fast,” Dave sings with a smirk. Yeah, they are shaking, banging, crashing, and clattering in that old timey way that gets one kicked out of one paradise and exiled into the next.
The two oddest entries include a blues version of “House of the Rising Sun”, here called “In New Orleans (Rising Sun Blues)”. The brothers keep the pace brisk and never let it drag. They are not wallowing in decadence like the narrators of Bob Dylan or the Animals’ renditions. The place may be one where many a poor soul met ruin, but it seems inviting.
The other strange cut is their pleading cover of James Brown’s classic “Please Please Please”. Phil handles the vocals and captures the pain of love without hamming it up. He knows enough not to imitate the original, but still respects it enough to capture Brown’s inflections. The band stays in the background, which makes him sound more personal and direct. Still, after Brown’s searing version the world doesn’t really need another. This may be the album’s only misstep.
The rest of the songs are imaginatively rendered and packed with a fundamental energy. Whether the brothers suggestively croon about love or chastely celebrate the afterlife, play down and dirty or cleanly pick out the notes, they manage to joyfully make up for the missing years.
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