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Dave Alvin and Phil Alvin reunite with 'Lost Time'

For several anxious hours in 2012, the possibility of brothers Dave and Phil Alvin ever making music together again was quite literally dead in the water.

Last year, the siblings teamed up on “Common Ground,” an album of cover songs by blues legend Big Bill Broonzy. Now they have released “Lost Time,” which features their stirring versions of a dozen blues tunes.

This sort of musical reunion might well have eventually happened on its own, but Dave Alvin says nearly losing his brother accelerated the process. Singer Phil Alvin was touring Spain with The Blasters, a band that originally included Dave Alvin until he started his solo career in 1986. The singer developed an infection that blocked his breath. He was taken to a hospital where his heart stopped several times on the operating table before doctors could re-open in airway.

Back home in California, Dave Alvin mistakenly received the worst of news.

“It was nuts,” the songwriter says during a telephone interview. “I got a phone call out of the blue. 'Your brother died.' It was just blur. I remember sitting on the balcony outside my music room and just staring at the sky. Then I got another call that he was in a coma and would be a vegetable for the rest of his life. Then another call, 'Nope, he's awake but may have suffered brain damage. Finally that call came that he was going to be OK.

"I was going down the list of regrets, and that's when I decided we had to make some records together. I didn't know what we'd do, but we had to. He's my brother, damnit."

Dave and Phil Alvin will blend American roots and blues with the punk energy alt-pop and rock band The Guilty Ones at 8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 25, at The Rogue Theatre, 143 S.E. H St., Grants Pass. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased online at roguetheatre.com, by calling 541-471-1316 or at the box office.  

The Alvins, along with long-time friends Bill Bateman on drums and John Bazz on bass, formed The Blasters in 1979 and enjoyed a rich musical run that produced three stellar studio albums mostly made up of Dave Alvin's originals. But there were tensions within the band.

“Inside the Blasters was a fight,” Dave Alvin says. “And it wasn’t just my brother and me fighting. The whole band, we all grew up together.”

Guitarist and songwriter Dave Alvin found it increasingly difficult to write songs for his brother Phil to sing. In 1986, Dave Alvin quit, joined the punk group X for a short time, then began to focus on a solo career.

Reuniting, the Alvin brothers found the best approach — at least for now — was to produce albums of cover songs. On “Lost Time,” they perform a dozen songs written by various blues artists — including four by Big Joe Turner, who early in the Alvins' music career befriended and mentored the brothers.

The songs on “Lost Time” may be written by other artists, but Dave Alvin says there was a unifying concept behind the album.

“It really kind of boils down to getting the best vocals I could out of my brother,” he says. “Because there are not a lot of singers like my brother. There just aren't. I wanted to capture what a great singer he is. His is a unique and powerful voice.”

The songs chosen for “Lost Time” make for a rich album that ranges from the hard-swinging Turner tune “Hide and Seek” to the gospel-tinged “World’s in a Bad Condition” to the jazzy Kansas City blues of “Cherry Red Blues.”

Dave Alvin has not ruled out eventually writing an album of originals for an album by the brothers or even a Blasters project, but for now fans will have to be content with seeing the Alvins tour behind “Lost Time,” with The Guilty Ones as a backing band.

“It will probably be some of the Bill Broonzy stuff from the last record and probably, I would say, about half of the music on the new album," Dave Alvin says of the tour's set list. “The rest will be songs of mine and songs that I wrote for my brother to sing in The Blasters. Then, yeah, sometimes, things that we did not plan to play will get performed. I like to leave sections, parts of our shows, open-ended.

"So there will be parts of the show where anything could happen," Dave Alvin says. "My brother doesn't particularly care for that. He likes to run a tight ship. But I like a tight ship that's a little loose."

Dave and Phil Alvin put a classic roots and blues touch on their 2015 album, 'Lost Time.' Photo courtesy of Jeff Fasano