Democrat and Chronicle from Rochester, New York on October 22, 2015 · Page F4
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Democrat and Chronicle from Rochester, New York · Page F4

Rochester, New York
Issue Date:
Thursday, October 22, 2015
Page F4
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4 Thursday,October22,2015 • • Democrat and Chronicle • ROCWeekend The tour was to start the next day and Dave Alvin is a busy man. A c rew is erecting a retaining wall in his backyard, just a little something “to k eep the hillside from coming down onto my house,” he says. That’s centuries – no, probably eons – of Southern California rock and dirt and bodies and fossils that Alvin doesn’t w ant to have to dig out from under when he and brother Phil and the Guilty Ones wrap up their latest arc haeological dig into the great tradition of American rock. It’s rock for sure when they play a sold-out show Tuesday at Downstairs Cabaret @ Winton Place, another one of the “Abilene Bar & Lounge on the Road” shows put on by the club that’s too small for its big ideas. T here’s no question that, early on, the Alvins were hugely influenced by the classic bluesmen. Even as teen- a gers growing up in Downey, Calif. Big Joe Turner, Johnny Otis, Eddie “Clean- h ead” Vinson. “That was life chang- i ng...” Alvin says a half-dozen times. The brothers' bedrock is the blues a nd soul and country and R&B and rockabilly, which they first began publicly excavating in 1980 with The Blasters, and the appropriately titled debut album American Music . But critical a cclaim generally doesn’t translate in c ommercial success. “It’s a continuous p rocess of asking a girl out on a date, a nd he keeps asking, he keeps asking, a nd she keeps saying no, no, no,” Alvin says. “ Finally he says, ‘OK, I guess s he’s not going out with me.’ Back in T he Blasters days, we thought we could have some hit records. And the girl said no. “So I said, ‘To hell with it. I’ll just start making records with whatever I w ant.’” A decision accelerated by the fact t hat Dave and Phil couldn’t stand being t ogether in a band. Dave left in 1986, and they didn’t patch it up until Dave’s 2011album Eleven Eleven and an amus- i ng Phil and Dave duet, “What’s Up With You Brother?” A riff on fans asking abut the feud, a rift that healed as t hey recorded the song. “Sorta,” Dave says. “I only broke a dental bridge in my mouth, gritting my teeth. A lot’s changed since then.” Mainly, Phil died. It was during The B lasters’ 2012 tour in Spain, with the s inger rushed to the hospital after he s uffered a relapse from the MRSA v irus. He died, the emergency team b rought him back. “I’m not as dumb as I used to be,” D ave says. “When he died, I realized h ow stupid I was. I can appreciate my brother’s voice now.” This led to Common Ground:Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin Play & Sing the Songs of Big Bill Broonzy . Nominated f or a Grammy for Best Blues Album l ast year. They’ve just released a sec- o nd brother set, Lost Time . Songs by J oe Turner, Willie Dixon, Oscar Brown, Jr. That whole crowd again. Two albums in a row without songs w ritten by Dave Alvin, who wrote Blasters classics such as “Marie, Marie” and “Border Radio,” lived off the r oyalties for a while after Dwight Yoakam had a hit with his “Long White Cadillac,” and filled his own albums smart, literate songwriting. Is Alvin buried by the past? No, he w ill likely be putting words into his b rother’s mouth again. “ I know how his voice should sound,” A lvin says. “My brother’s a great singer a nd particularly a great singer for this material. He’s got a rare gift, a voice f rom another time, a blues shouter v oice.” And words are aching to come out of Alvin. He’s published two books of poems, and if you read his Facebook posts during this tour, he’s sounding p lenty poetic. T raveling through southern Illinois t owards St. Louis (after last night's good s how in Chicago) and nearing the pre- Columbian mound city of Cahokia…. I'm always amazed, though, by how, d espite the modern homogenization of A merican culture, you can still pull the pavement back a bit to glimpse some of our shared, complex history, from blues singers to forgotten battlefields, from dusty vaqueros to mysterious cities lost i n time. “I didn’t come to songwriting like some songwriters I know, I never t hought it was a viable way to survive,” Alvin says. “Songwriters came from Mars. You don’t really think of Bob Dylan as from Hibbing, Minn., he came from Mars and landed in Greenwich Village. Joni Mitchell came from Venus and landed in Canada. Even playing guitar, that’s something Jimi Hendrix d id. “My dad was a labor organizer, that meant you got a job in a steel mill or as a longshoreman.” Maybe that doesn’t sound like fertile g round for a writer. But no, “I knew a l ongshoreman who was a pretty good poet,” Alvin says. I’m thinking he was m aybe referring to his pal Chris Gaffney, who had a fine, soulful voice and wrote some pretty good songs before passing away in 2008. Gaffney worked as a longshoreman for years before p utting out his first album in 1990, with a little hand from Alvin. You look back o n Big Bill Broonzy and Big Joe Turner a nd you see that great songwriting m aybe doesn’t happen at a writer retreat in the Poconos. “ Sometimes the stories just walk in a nd introduce themselves,” Alvin says. “This might be shameless namedrop- ping, but one night many, many years ago, 25 years ago, I was plowed drunk with John Prine. And we walked over to t his bar and were just sitting there, and t his woman comes up, sits down bet ween us and tells us her life story. A fter she left, Prine says, ‘You know, when you’re a songwriter, they just come right to you.’” Alvin brothers play sold-out show here IF YOU GO What: D ave Alvin and Phil Alvin with the Guilty Ones. When: 8 p.m. Oct. 27. Where: Downstairs Cabaret @ Winton Place, 3450 Winton Place, Brighton. Tickets: Sold out. NightlifeAfter Dark PROVIDED Dave, left, and Phil Alvin play a sold-out show at Downstairs Cabaret Theatre @ Winton Place. JEFF SPEVAK MUSIC CRITIC

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