2QT (2nd Quarter Top) Supplement #1

Dave Alvin and Phil Alvin, Sing the Songs of Big Bill Broonzy

First couple listens, this sounded flat and felt no more than earnestly professional, the classic type of album people are going to let play tennis without a net. After a couple more spins, it dawned on me that I was blaming the brothers Alvin for not recording the album I wanted them to, rather than the one they had, always a mistake. More important, it would be unwise, if not impossible, for them to make that record I wanted.

Three years ago, I loved “What’s Up With Your Brother?” on Dave Alvin’s  Eleven Eleven. Sounded like an ideal post-Blasters tune by the Blasters. But when you think about it, inability to write together may be the only subject these guys have now. So did I want them to do a typical failed-reunion album of forced-out, inferior originals? Hell no. On top of that, even if collaboration magic suddenly returned, it would not sound like the Blasters because Dave Alvin’s singing has deepened and improved dramatically since those days. Their voices simply could not have the same relationship. So cover tunes is the better option, keep the focus sharp by using one source, and it turns out Broonzy is an astute choice.

Thing is with Broonzy, by the time he was most famous, in the ’40s and ’50s, he had become slick and shallow, huge rep and influence or not. Now, in the Blasters, the Alvins had been masters of bit-of-this plus bit-of-that equals us. So was Broonzy. He was country and city, acoustic and electric and as Tom Moon summarizes nicely, “one of the first blues artists to amalgamate elements of different styles into a seamless and highly personal sound.” One that remains ripe for reinterpretations by folks with the right feel, like Muddy Waters or Dave and Phil Alvin.

(Moon picks Young Big Bill Broonzy 1928-1935 and that remains the basic choice. For less than 10 more bucks, my choice for prime reference is All the Classic Sides 1928-1937. I wonder if I’ll ever put on his dullish Folkways sides from the ’50s, Trouble in Mind. Probably not.)




2nd Quarter Top 15, 2014

You get too far into the 3rd Quarter of a year before you settle on 2nd Quarter picks and you look like a nut. So, even though I’m not quite ready with what I have to say about these, here’s the list. Affections vary from platonic to irrational, but these are albums I play all the way through, one or two lesser tracks at most. Release dates are not exact — these are albums I assimilated in the second four months of this year, and they are at least close to release and some came out maybe a bit earlier. And of course no opinion is fixed — indeed, Miles To Go regulars will immediately note that I proclaimed one the these picks a “bummer” not that long ago. Shows why, sometimes, you need to keep re-listening.

1. Dave Alvin and Phil Alvin, Common Ground — Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin Play and Sing the Songs of Big Bill Broonzy (Yep Roc)

2. Clarice Assad, Imaginarium (Adventure Music)


3. Bahamas, Bahamas Is Afie (Brushfire)

4. Benyoro, S/T (Benyoro)


5. Boris, Noise (Sargent House)

6. Eno/Hyde, High Life (Warp)

7. Golem, Tanz (Corason)

8. Fred Hersch Trio, Floating (Palmetto)


9. Miranda Lambert, Platinum (RCA)

10. Arto Lindsay, Encyclopedia of Arto (Nspy)

11. Parquet Courts, Sunbathing Animal (What’s Your Rupture)

12. Juanito Pascual, New Flamenco Trio (self-released)

13. Sharon Van Etten, Are We There (Jagjaguwar)

14. Wray. S/T (Communicating Vessels)


15. Neil Young, A Letter Home (Reprise)

Two Bummers, One Stinker and Five Cheers (More to Come Later)


Ricardo Lemvo & Makina Loca, La Rumba Soyo. Guess this sometimes fiery and freewheeling Afro-Caribbean fusionist (love a couple of his records and expected great things) has completed his circle. He started LA blah and has now come down with what sounds like a terminal Case of the Mellows.

Dave Alvin and Phil Alvin, Common Ground: Play and Sing the Songs of Big Bill Broonzy. Deluxe concept that will be overpraised and that I insist is stiffer and flatter than even low expectations called for. Interesting reasons why, though. I will try to say more a bit later.


Various, The Rough Guide to Psychedelic Cambodia. “… live on in the memory of survivors and exiles as cherished treasures of a lost past.” I sure can’t imagine why anyone else would want to bother with it.


Free Nelson Madoomjazz, The Shape of Doomjazz to Come/Saxophone Giganticus. I know, I know, this semi-stuntish project could last maybe another release before burning out, but it made sure I was tickled in brain and nodding to groove even as I laffed at concept.

Lilly Allen, Sheezus. Take it from somebody who rejected the Kanye namessake, this is the series of ‘tudes to cop. I mean, who wouldn’t be out for blood if your brother had his dick chopped off in front of millions?

Suzy Bogguss, Lucky. Merle Haggard covers. Lots of fun, bears repeated plays, conquers male C&W territory without a blink and salutes my favorite gender-neutral Hag madness, “Let’s Chase Each Other Around the Room.”

Arto Lindsay, Encyclopedia of Arto. At first I thought this was perverse and impudent and defied all common sense for an overview. About the third listen I decided that was mucho consistent with what he was about and learned to dig it a bunch.

Bahamas, Bahamas Is Afie. This took me even more listens to penetrate but, by George, I think he’s got it with 2014 love songs. A total-sensibility voice.