by Robert Gordon
There's a lot of great, dead blues players from Memphis, Tennessee. Furry Lewis, Bukka White, Will Shade - you start making that list and you get down with the stop-time blues. Alvin Hart may never have hung in the shadow of these guys (or maybe he did), but he certainly has dug their vibe like the sharp human phonograph needle that he is.
Alvin needs a tonic. He needs a Peptikon or a Hadacol, a nice velvety bag from Seagram's or a McDonald's Big Mac. Those old school medicine show guys, they sold some tonics because they kept your attention. Didn't matter how big or small, how diverse the crowd was - medicine show greats played jack-leg as easily as they played jack-hammer, Jack. They were songsters, able to read people, divining moods and flowing through styles to keep a crowd. Alvin does that.
But he's no chameleon; that's to misunderstand him completely. Alvin is a werewolf. His skin doesn't change with each song, his soul does. And that's why this record is so exciting. Though he also plays Captain Beefheart and Bob Wills with facility and commitment, he's howling Mississippi Delta blues exclusively this go round. Alvin and his guitar (especially his guitar) morph from Bukka White to Charlie Patton to Furry Lewis. But even as the great spirits of these greats parade by in their Silas Green and Rabbit Foot finery, Alvin maintains his individuality. When the moon goes down over each song, Alvin Youngblood Hart remains, exhausted as if from levitation, inspired, transported, transformed.
That's the tonic for those stop-time blues: a list of the great living players. Find Alvin Hart up there at the top.