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Monday, September 15, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 57.0° F  Fair
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Dave and Phil Alvin stop fighting to make a record of Big Bill Broonzy covers
The Blasters brothers bury the hatchet
Big Bill Broonzy helped the Alvins bury the hatchet.
Credit:Gary Leonard

Thirty-five years have passed since the Blasters debuted their blend of blues, rockabilly and roots rock in a small city near Disneyland. Though they're brothers, founders Dave and Phil Alvin didn't record together for decades, probably because they fought constantly. Then came Common Ground, an album of Big Bill Broonzy covers released this year. It's the focus of the siblings' July 25 concert at the High Noon Saloon.

Why the change of heart? In short, the blues. As Dave has noted, "We never argue about Big Bill Broonzy."

The Alvins have been blues fans for most of their lives, even when they weren't fans of each other. Some of their earliest music lessons came from legends like T-Bone Walker. Dave did a stint as lead guitarist for seminal punk band X and became a prolific solo artist, and Phil found success in academia. Yet they both crave something only a heart-rending bluesman can provide.

Though Phil became a mathematician, he also fronted the Blasters when they reunited. Dave supported the band from the crowd until Phil stopped breathing during a 2012 concert in Spain. Phil couldn't walk or talk, and the future looked bleak. But after a life-saving tracheotomy, he slowly regained his strength.

Common Ground celebrates Phil's health, a strengthened fraternal bond and the ability to thrive in a world rife with conflict and change. Broonzy's difficult life must have given the brothers some perspective. With 16 siblings, he probably had many childhood squabbles. As an African American in the rural South, he couldn't escape racial slurs. In 1920 he moved to Chicago, where he traded his fiddle for a guitar and shifted from country blues to a slick urban style. He then went back to his roots in the '50s, helping to spark a folk revival.

If Common Ground is any indication, Broonzy helped the Alvins bury the hatchet. Dave introduces an instrumental groove Jerry Garcia would dig on "Stuff They Call Money," and Phil sings like Willie Nelson's flashy, jazz-loving cousin on "Key to the Highway." And he's utterly convincing on "I Feel So Good” when he croons "I feel like ballin' the jack," retro slang for "I wanna dance with somebody."

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