Review by Fred Rudofsky
Whereas Saturday was blessed with perfect weather, the forecast for Sunday at the Green River Festival was mixed; the question was how much rain would hit central Massachusetts. It certainly did hit hard late in the afternoon. The one assurance was the quality of several featured acts. Here is an abbreviated account of various highlights.
SUNDAY (JULY 13):
GIRLS GUNS & GLORY: Based out of Boston, the four-piece Girls Guns & Glory has built up a loyal following in the Northeast with extensive touring – their double-bill with Sarah Borges at Club Helsinki this past spring ranks as one of the best concerts I have seen so far this year. With four albums to their name, they had great material to feature in a dozen-song set that mixed rockabilly, country and rock. Ward Hayden sang a bopping take of Johnny Burnette’s “Lonesome Train,” a fine opportunity for some solo flourishes by lead guitarist Chris Hersch. Several songs were drawn from their recent album, Good Luck. “UUU” detailed a broken romance; “Be Your Man” had the melodic hooks worthy of Rockpile in their heyday; and the rhythm section of Paul Dilley (bass) and Josh Kiggans (drums) propelled the harmony-rich “Shake Like Jello” like it was a lost-long Bobby Fuller Four gem. Energetic takes on Chuck Berry’s “Sweet Little Sixteen” and their own “667” closed out a laudable set at the Four Rivers Stage.
DAVE AND PHIL ALVIN & THE GUILTY ONES: Arguably the most anticipated act of the weekend was the reunion of Dave Alvin and Phil Alvin of the Blasters, one of the most beloved bands of the American music roots revival of the early 1980s. (For the full story of why this reunion occurred, go to NPR’s “Fresh Air” episode). Their first full collaboration in 30 years, the extraordinary Common Ground: Dave Alvin and Phil Alvin Play and Sing the Songs of Big Bill Broonzy, has put the two brothers from Downey, California on the road with a talented band (Lisa Pankratz – drums; Brad Fordham – bass; and Chris Miller – guitar).
Phil Alvin (“My big brother was born with that magnificent voice. I was born, however, with just a voice,” quipped Dave) sang with fervor and joy on “I Feel So Good,” which lived up to its title and allowed Chris Miller and Dave to trade some killer guitar solos. “Key to the Highway,” arguably the most covered song in the Broonzy canon, had the brothers trading verses, while “Southern Flood Blues” featured Dave on lead vocal and Phil on some fine Sonny Terry-styled harmonica.
Grabbing an acoustic guitar, Phil reached back to the eponymous Blasters debut album for a spirited rendition of Jimmie Rodgers’ “Never No Mo’ Blues,” and then pulled his harp for Broonzy’s “still applicable” “Stuff They Call Money,” a fine showcase for some harmony singing by Pankratz and Fordham, as well as a gunslinging solo by Dave on his trusty Strat. “Truckin’ Little Woman” roared out of the gate, a fast boogie that featured a twin-guitar attack for the ages. “What’s up with Your Brother?” (from Dave’s most recent album Eleven Eleven) was prefaced by Dave’s stories of how Blasters fans worldwide would inquire about the estranged brothers and featured a deft finger-picked solo by Phil that had Dave remarking, “Phil, you know that our friend, Duke Robillard, heard that solo last night and started sweating!”
Phil switched gears, taking on the ultimate early James Brown showstopper, “Please Please Please”, a 45 he treasured as a record-collecting kid. It was a riveting performance, good gawd. Dave looked back at his childhood in the classic “Dry River,” a remarkable journey sung in a weathered baritone voice about bliss, loss and guarded hope for renewal – throughout, Chris Miller played some otherworldly bottleneck. The closing three songs revisited the greatness of the Blasters songbook. “One Bad Stud” exuded swagger; a galvanizing “Marie Marie” had everybody, even those pressed up tight near the stage, dancing like maniacs; and “So Long Baby Goodbye” (prefaced with a brief snippet of Billy Boy Arnold’s classic Chicago blues “I Wish You Would” and shout-outs to departed friends like Lee Allen, Amy Farris, Top Jimmy, Country Dick Montana, Chris Gaffney and Bill Morrissey) blazed like a fire that no one wanted to see go out.
DAVE AND PHIL ALVIN & THE GUILTY ONES SET LIST
I Feel So Good (Big Bill Broonzy)
Key to the Highway (Big Bill Broonzy)
Southern Flood Blues (Big Bill Broonzy)
Never No Mo’ Blues (Jimmie Rodgers)
Stuff They Call Money (Big Bill Broonzy)
Truckin’ Little Woman (Big Bill Broonzy)
What’s Up with Your Brother? (Dave Alvin)
Please, Please, Please (James Brown)
Dry River (Dave Alvin)
One Bad Stud (Dave Alvin)
Marie, Marie (Dave Alvin)
I Wish You Would (Billy Boy Arnold) / So Long Baby Goodbye (Dave Alvin)
BARNSTAR!: After seeing the extraordinary set by Alvin brothers, I headed back across the field to the Four Rivers Stage just in time to hear a pair of tunes by Boston-based Barnstar. Led by guitarist Mark Erelli, the five-piece bluegrass band tore into a fantastic take on “Stay with Me” by the Faces – hearing the crowd sing along to the bawdy verses and hilarious chorus was spine-tingling fun. “When My Time Comes” had a chorus worthy of knocking back a few pints in a western Ireland singing bar. Jake Amending (fiddle), Taylor “Old Train” Amending (mandolin), Zack Hickman (bass) and Charlie Rose (banjo) deserve special mention for distracting the crowd from the rain that ensued.
THE IGUANAS: The rain intensified, but the music did not relent at the Four Rivers Stage. The Iguanas, based in New Orleans, enjoy a long-standing following in New England as revealed by the massive applause from the drenched but still smiling dancers. Mixing multi-lingual sounds from Louisiana, Texas, Mexico and beyond, the quartet – Joe Cabral saxophone), Rene Colman (bass), Doug Garrison (drums) and Rod Hodges (guitar and accordion) – was a hoot playing old favorites like “Boom Boom Boom,” “Oye, Isabel” and “My Girlfriend Is a Waitress,” as well as introducing new favorites like “Oye Mi Cumbia” (from 2012’s Sin to Sin) and “Soul Kiss” from this year’s gritty mix of rockers, Juarez.