An evening spent in the estimable company of Dave and Phil Alvin is an incredible voyage through American roots music, like exploring the 20th century in a blues Tardis. Younger brother Dave is clearly the bandleader here, cueing the other musicians – guitarist Chris Miller, bassist Brad Fordham and drummer Lisa Pankratz – when it’s time for them to take a solo or to wrap up a jam. But it’s the barrel-chested elder sibling, Alvin, who has the biggest voice – where Dave has a low, bluesy growl, Phil has the overwhelming booming power and projection of a blues shouter, put to splendid use in Please Please Please.
They open with Ballin’ The Jack, a much-loved song that celebrated its centennial in 2013, and over the next two hours they revitalise gems such as Oscar Brown Jr’s Mister Kicks, Willie Dixon’s Sit Down, Baby, and Cherry Red and Hide And Seek from Big Joe Turner’s celebrated repertoire.
Dave might be one of the most underrated guitarists in contemporary blues. His Stratocaster is burning all night whether he’s tearing it up in Big Bill Broonzy’s Trucking Little Woman, duelling with Chris Miller in Southern Flood Blues or leading Lisa Pankratz into a Bo Diddley break during Johnny Ace Is Dead.
Definitely the motor-mouth of the brothers, Dave introduces Trouble Bound as, “a song by one of my favourite songwriters – me”. There’s country at play in Dry River, which leads into a slamming solo from Pankratz, and undiluted rock’n’roll in American Music. They encore with Merle Haggard’s Kern River in honour of his passing, a fiery Marie Marie from their time in The Blasters and finally a massive jam built around Bobby Bland’s Turn On Your Love Light.
Since BB King’s passing there has been talk aplenty about keeping the blues alive, but with the Alvin brothers it’s in rude health.