Singer Phil Alvin co-founded the Blasters in Los Angeles with his guitar-slinging kid brother Dave in 1979; the blues-roots-rocking band ended its recording career in the mid-’80s and, shortly thereafter, except for the occasional reunion gig, folded its tent for a while. Before dedicating himself to academics (getting graduate degrees in esoteric math disciplines), Phil cut Un”Sung” Stories, a delightful solo album of blues, gospel and jazz goodies (including “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” and Cab Calloway’s “Minnie the Moocher”). Sun Ra and the Arkestra join him on three tracks, nicely complementing Phil with their own loopy charm.
Nearly a decade later, with the Blasters back on the road again, Alvin finally followed his debut with County Fair 2000 another impressive and winning visit to the record library in the college of Phil’s musical knowledge. Relying a shade more on fantasy antique store originals than genuine oldies (“Old Rugged Cross” and Sammy Fain’s “Low Down Rhythm” being among them), the album embraces a staggering assortment of idioms — Dixieland, blues, swing, folk, modern jazz, country and spirituals — performed with a parade of hep pals (like Top Jimmy, Jerome Bowman, Cesar Rosas) and sympathetic musical organizations, all of which (save the Dirty Dozen Brass Band) he holds membership in: the Faultline Syncopators, the Guada La Habrians, the Blasters. Billy Boy Arnold joins him for an amusing automotive grudge match (“Wreck Your V-8 Ford”), Mary Franklin insults him in “What’s the Reason I’m Not Pleasin’ You” and trumpeter Ike Williams and drummer Jerry Angel back his piano rendition of Sun Ra’s “Ankh.” There’s lots more, and it’s all good. It’s a marvel to hear such musty chapters from music’s history books brought to robust modern life in the hands of such a well-versed scholar.