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Ear to the Ground: Dave & Phil Alvin’s “All By Myself”

The Blasters founders put aside their differences to record their first album together in 30 years—an album that muses on the music of blues legend Big Bill Broonzy.

Historically, music has provided the calm in the storm of squabbling sibling bandmates. Collaborating on songs has never failed to bring together such infamously bickering brothers as Dave and Ray Davies, Phil and Don Everly, Liam and Noel Gallagher, etc. Even Blasters founders Dave and Phil Alvin recently admitted that, though they often argue, they rarely disagree on matters pertaining to blues legend Big Bill Broonzy.

Here they pay homage to the guitarist/singer with Common Ground: Dave Alvin + Phil Alvin Play and Sing the Songs of Big Bill Broonzy, the Alvin brothers’ first album together in three decades. And they agreed to showcase the span of his songwriting styles—because Broonzy refused to adhere to the sometimes unimaginative parameters of the genre’s enthusiasts. And here they’re successful in covering the man’s versatility.

In just 12 tracks, the Alvins cover Broonzy’s signature guitar skills of the late ’20s and early ’30s, as well as the blossoming of his songcraft during the late ’30s and early ’40s. The lead track, “All By Myself,” balances a tight rhythmic strum with leads that intersect melodic flatpicking with more complex fretboard runs. Guitar playing aside, listen closely and you get a sense that the Alvin brothers also studied Broonzy’s barrel-chested vocal delivery.