Sunday 24 April 2016

Dave and Phil Alvin with The Guilty Ones - review

Dave Alvin and Phil Alvin with the Guilty Ones, Manchester, Ruby Lounge, 18-04-16

By Little Bill Broonzy

When Dave and Phil Alvin took to the stage in Manchester’s Ruby Lounge on Monday night it was the latest chapter in one of the more heart-warming stories in rock’n’roll.

Known primarily as the co-founders of legendary roots rock band the Blasters, the brothers, tired of feuding, had long ago gone their separate ways. Dave, the Fender strutting songwriter in the band had grown weary of providing words for his big brother and lead vocalist Phil, so in 1986 he quit the Blasters.

Subsequently Dave went on to produce a string of critically acclaimed solo albums, with his band the Guilty Men, with most of the material being self penned. He won a Grammy in 2000 for his album of traditional material, “Public Domain”.

Phil meanwhile, returned to academia as a professor of mathematics at California State University, touring with the Blasters during semester breaks, playing to ever smaller audiences in bars around the USA. And thus the greatest voice in modern blues music faded into the background.

And so it may have remained had it not been for a health scare in July 2012, when Phil, touring in Spain with the Blasters was hospitalised with complications of MRSA. Whilst in a Spanish hospital he flat lined and was pronounced dead before being resuscitated by a young Spanish doctor.

This prompted a gradual reconciliation. In 2014 the brothers recorded their first studio album in 30 years. “Common Ground” a collection of Big Bill Broonzy covers was nominated for a Grammy in 2015. The Alvins toured the world with Dave’s latest band the Guilty Ones. Nobody got killed, and they decided to do it again.

Last year, they followed this up with the suitably titled “Lost Time”, another collection of traditional blues songs, ranging from the 30’s to the 50’s. This gig in Manchester was part of the UK tour to promote the album.

The venue was ideal; a grimy, dimly lit blues club with maybe 100 people in attendance. The band was supremely tight. Two lead guitarists, Dave and the exceptional Chris Miller taking it in turns to run searing solos; Brad Fordham keeping it tight on bass and the amazing Lisa Pankratz on drums.

But the star of the show is Big Phil. The whole set is geared around showcasing his gigantic singing voice, a musical instrument in itself. Dave restricts himself to a handful of vocals, all the time introducing songs with stories about his big brother, whilst Phil powers his way through a set comprising of blues standards, old Blasters songs and a couple of Dave’s more recent numbers.

The band played a straight two hour set which left the audience screaming for more. Highlights included the Blasters classics “American Music” and “Marie Marie”, plus blues standards like “Truckin Little Woman” and “World’s in a Bad Condition”. The Islington gig, which your reviewer was also lucky enough to attend, included an astonishing version of the James Brown classic “Please Please Please”, in which Phil Alvin brought the house down.

Throughout it all, the brothers displayed an easy going spirit of kinship and harmony which belied their turbulent past. Heart-warming, really. “Lost Time” indeed

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