“I got a letter / Came to me by mail,” sings Phil Alvin on the merry, danceable 2014 blues album Common Ground: Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin Play and Sing the Songs of Big Bill Broonzy. If that notion sounds antiquated, perhaps it’s because Broonzy died in 1958. Or maybe it’s because the Alvin brothers—the straight-shooting lead vocals belong to Phil and the blistering guitar solos are Dave’s—are old-school, too; in 1979, they started the Blasters, a rockabilly band that toured with Queen and lent a track to the 1996 Robert Rodriguez–Quentin Tarantino flick, From Dusk Till Dawn. Common Ground marks a new beginning: Dave quit the Blasters in 1986, and this is the first studio venture from the siblings since ’85’s Hard Line. So while the LP deals with typical blues themes—there’s a robbery, a highway, prison—it’s also about fresh starts and unity.
Not that Common Ground is devoid of darkness. “Southern Flood Blues” gets downright edgy, for instance, thanks to Phil’s cautioning harmonica and Dave’s sharp, life-affirming six-string. And there’s a menace to “You’ve Changed” that’s unmistakable. One can bet on blasts of both elation and fierceness this week, as the Alvins make their first joint New York appearances in 30 years.—Brad Farberman