Written by Jim Bille
ImageThey say good things come to those who wait and wait is what many music fans had to do for some thirty years, that is until a couple of months ago when the notorious Alvin brothers, Phil and Dave, patched up a few of their differences long enough to record what I consider to be a landmark and highlight of both of their careers.

 I use the word notorious simply because these siblings have feuded off and on since their days together with “The Blasters”, and probably growing up, and rarely appear together on stage much less in the recording studio but one thing the brothers have always agreed on is their passion for the music of Big Bill Broonzy.

This shared passion was so strong that they decided to bury a few hatchets and collaborate on a tribute to their hero by recording “Common Ground”.This album features some of Broonzy’s best and well known material as well as a few obscure gems.

On the heels of the album’s release the brothers have been touring the last couple of months backed up by Dave’s band the “Guilty Ones” and made a stop at Conroe Texas’ historic Crighton Theatre, an unbelievable venue with acoustics so good you really could here that proverbial pin drop.

The brothers started the show with an acoustic semi rag-time sounding duet number by Broonzy called “All By Myself” the first of many songs from the new release to be featured throughout the evening. “Key to The Highway”, probably the best known Broonzy song, was next with Dave flashing some incredible finger picking guitar work while brother Phil rounded out the number with harmonica. As with the previous number, this song was a duet and featured the two swapping vocals making this another fantastic arrangement by the duo.

At least half of the show featured material from the new CD while the balance of the music touched on Dave’s solo career and of course a good helping of Blasters fare.

ImageDA’s “Dry River”, a song about the San Gabriel River, with its cemented shorelines and dams that flows through the LA area where the brothers grew up as well as another signature Alvin song, “King of California” a tune penned for his mother were excellently performed.

 “What’s Up With Your Brother”, a song shared between the two, was kind of a light hearted look at and story of their feud while poking some fun at their situation. Originally released on Dave Alvin’s album, “Eleven Eleven” the song was written as a result of the question asked to both of them on a consistent basis by fans as well as Dave Alvin’s desire to pen something the two of them could perform together. This song probably went a long way towards breaking some ice and reuniting them for this project.

Another soon to be Dave Alvin standard featured was “Johnny Ace is Dead”, a rockin’ ballad about the ill fated death of early 50’s Rock and Roller Johnny Ace who died  from an accidental self-inflicted gunshot wound at the City Auditorium in Houston in 1954.

Other than music from their new project I was really interested in hearing the two perform Blasters material. I’ve seen many performances by the Alvin’s individually over the years but I never made it to Fitzgerald’s back in the day to see the original Blasters line-up.

The siblings did not disappoint when it came to serving up some of the Blasters more memorable material. “Border Radio” and the gospel tinged “Sampson and Delilah” were the first two numbers from the Blasters catalogue with one more classic saved for last.

During “Border Radio”, Dave Alvin’s vintage thirty-five year old Riviera Fender Concert amp blew out on him leaving him without sound. Not deterred, he asked the audience to quite down as he held his guitar close to the microphone picking the final few bars of the song through the PA system and the crowd loved it.

Encore numbers were supposed to feature Alvin’s electric guitar but since he was now amp-less he had to improvise on acoustic which made the final two numbers that much more interesting.

The first song of the finale was a knock- you- back in the seat version of the James Brown classic “Please, Please, Please” that featured Phil Alvin’s incredibly controlled screaming vocals that rattled the vintage theatres rafters.

ImageThe final number was the Blasters signature song,” Marie, Marie”, with Dave and Phil never missing a beat and still sounding like they did over thirty years back.

Other numbers featured from “Common Ground” throughout the evening included, “Saturday Night Rub”, “How You Want It Done”, “Southern Flood Blues”, “Truckin Little Woman”, “Feel So Good”, “You’ve Changed” and “The Stuff They Call Money”.

Personal take- aways on this show; (1) Hands down the best show I’ve seen this year, and I see quite a few shows (2) Buy a copy of “Common Ground” (3) You have to go to the Crighton Theatre 

A special thank you needs to be extended to the fine folks at The Crighton Theatre for their hospitality and graciousness and for bringing this show and other fine acts to Conroe for their Sounds of Texas Series. This was the final show of the 2014 series but I’ll be back next year to take in some more great entertainment at this fantastic venue.