By Eleni P. Austin

The experimental and improvisational music made by the free-form five-piece, The Third Mind, seems as far away as you can get from the gritty Roots Rock that Dave Alvin has made as a solo artist and with his first band, The Blasters.

Not so, says Dave, who recently explained that he “doesn’t consider The Third Mind to be a huge seismic, stylistic shift from what I’ve done over the course of my career. I do understand why people would see (or hear) it that way though. Certainly, the length of the songs and the band’s free-form philosophy is different than the music I played/wrote in The Blasters. But the underlying Folk/Blues forms that The Third Mind use as a sonic starting point for our explorations are the same Folk/Blues forms that I’ve played, bent, honored and twisted from my days as a Blaster, and then throughout my whole solo career. For me, seeing how far I can take my semi-primitive Blues stylings and how I can adopt those Blues stylings into various musical situations (from The Blasters to The Flesh Eaters, to The Knitters to X, to my long solo career), is not only very fulfilling and fun, but also seriously necessary for me to thrive as a musical artist.

The Third Mind is a Super Group in the best sense of the word. Dave Alvin began making music in the late ‘70s, first in The Blasters, the Roots-Rock combo he formed with his brother Phil. The band was part of the thriving L.A. Punk scene, sharing stages with everyone from X and Black Flag, to Los Lobos, The Gun Club and Top Jimmy & The Rhythm Pigs. His solo career took flight in 1987, with the release of his debut, Romeo’s Escape. In the ensuing years he has recorded a series of critically acclaimed solo albums, reconnected with The Blasters and collaborated with his brother Phil, as well as Texas troubadour, Jimmie Dale Gilmore.


Bassist Victor Krummenacher was a founding member of Camper Van Beethoven and its arty offshoot, Monks Of Doom. Between both bands, he’s recorded 10 albums with CvB and seven with the Monks. He’s also squeezed in about 10 solo efforts. David Immergluck (insert your own umlauts), is a multi-instrumentalist who also got his start with Camper Van Beethoven. He spent several years playing, touring and recording with John Hiatt (and was Grammy nominated for the latter’s excellent 2001 album, Crossing Muddy Waters). He’s also played on every Counting Crows album since 1993. As a respected session musician, he’s recorded with everyone from Hootie & The Blowfish, Joan Osborne, Joseph Arthur and Cracker.

Back in the ‘90s, drummer Michael Jerome made his bones as a member of The Toadies. He went on to pound his kit for venerable British Folk-Rocker Richard Thompson. He’s also kept time for Blues Harp legend Charlie Musselwaite, Velvet Underground founder John Cale and Neo-Soul pioneer Me’shell N’degeocello.

On The Third Mind’s debut, Jesse Sykes was a special guest. This time out, she has been fully jumped into the gang. The native New Yorker first made her mark in the band Hominy, but made a more lasting impression fronting Jesse Sykes & The Sweet Hereafter. She’s also collaborated with Alter and Sun O))).

The inspiration for The Third Mind came about when Dave read the Miles Davis biography, So What. He became intrigued by Miles’ recording process for landmark albums like Bitches Brew and Jack Johnson. Producer Teo Macero put all the musicians in the same space. Jamming in one key, the players improvised until they locked into a groove. During the recording process the music was shaped into songs. He fantasized about doing the same. When he shared this with his pal Victor, he assumed Dave was joking.

By 2018, Dave was ready to give it a try. The pair enlisted David, Michael and Jesse. The modest goal was to create some “loud fun.” The result, their self-titled 2020 debut, was a tight six-song set that unspooled like an extended suite. Now, the band is back with their second effort, pithily entitled 2.

The album opens with the deceptively laid-back “Groovin’ Is Easy.” Originally a hit in 1968 for guitarist Mike Bloomfield’s band, The Electric Flag, it featured punchy horns, slick guitars and a driving beat. Dave and company strip away the pomp and circumstance. Dusting the arrangement in a hallucinogenic haze. Strummy acoustic notes partner with painterly electric riffs, feathery organ fills, pliant bass lines and a chunky beat. Jesse’s shivery vocals echo antecedents like Grace Slick and Laura Nyro, her hypnotic style nearly succeeds in elevating free love lyrics that not-so subtly urge a woman to let go of her inhibitions; “There’s nobody stopping you baby, there’s just yourself…” But even as the vocals add color and texture, they’re sidelined by shape-shifty instrumentation. As everything unfurls, a wiggly wah-wah guitar cascades atop a pummeling beat. Following the third verse, Bluesy Texas-style licks, are buttressed by pounding piano runs, and even more wah-wah teases out some final epic guitar pyrotechnics before Jesse swoops back in and the song shudders to a halt.

Subverting expectations, may not be The Third Mind’s raison d’etre, but it’s a sweet perk of the gig. The band takes a couple of fairly well-known songs, “Sally Go Round The Roses” and “Why Not Your Baby” and reconfigures them, Third Mind-style. The former was a rollicking one-hit wonder from a Bronx Girl Group called The Jaynetts. The song went to #2 back in 1963. Six decades later, the band jettison the original’s playful, R&B arrangement, opening with trippy, effects-laden guitar that washes over somnambulistic keys, wily bass and a slipstitch beat. As it slowly stretches out, rubbery wah-wah notes collide with scorching Blues licks. It’s a full minute before Jesse checks in, her voice thick with foreboding. Cryptic lyrics allow Sally to go ‘round the roses, but caution her to stay away from downtown “because the saddest thing in the whole wide world is to see your baby with another girl.” Nocturnal and slightly narcoleptic the instrumentation ebbs and flows, locking into a dusty Bolero groove. The band cook up an aural banquet. Acrid guitars sting and sway, riding roughshod atop bramble-thick rhythm riffs, conga and bongo accents and swirly keys. Delicate acoustic arpeggios fold into a skronky, staccato guitar solo that seems ready to spontaneously combust. As Jesse returns, the song quietly powers down.

The latter is a deep cut from the late Gene Clark. The original lead singer of The Byrds from 1964-1966, he went on to record a series of critically acclaimed solo albums, but commercial success eluded his grasp. Sadly, he passed away in 1991. A classic Country-Rock lament, The Third Mind’s take is by turns, melancholy and evocative, but also slightly tricked-out and Psychedelic. There’s a bit of Torch in this in this Twang. Jesse is front and center from the jump, her plaintive vocals wrap around gossamer guitar riffs, flinty bass lines, willowy keys and a sturdy backbeat. lines like “Why don’t you call me your baby anymore, am I so changed from some strange love that went before, is this the change of mind that I’ve been designed for, why not your baby, anymore,” are suffused in ache and feelings of betrayal. On the break, a squally, sustained guitar note weeps and bends, hugging the hairpin turns with hints of distortion and feedback, over wooly Hammond B3, tender piano and a cantilevered beat.

The best tracks here play back-to-back. The Third Mind tackle another Chicago Blues classic, “In My Own Dream” by The Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Released in 1968, it was equal parts Jazzy, pastoral and Gospel-flavored Dave and the gang strip it for parts and transform it into a souped-up muscle car. Shuddery, reverb-drenched guitars are wed to tensile bass lines, vroom-y keys and a relax-fit shuffle rhythm (which shares some musical DNA with the Koko Taylor/Willie Dixon hit, “Wang, Dang Doodle”). Jesse’s drowsy drawl envelopes mystical lyrics that seem to be yearning for a bit of emotional rescue; “I didn’t know I was such a fool, and it took me a long time just to find out that my head is upside down, what I was standing on, you know, it wasn’t too solid ground.” Chiming guitars cocoon the chorus, a volcanic solo erupts, defying the laws of gravity. Swaggering one minute, supplicating the next, it see-saws from an angry hornet’s nest to honeyed harmonics. As it rounds the bend toward a finish-line, stacked percussion leans into a syncopated groove and the final squall of guitars jackrabbit through a series of aural switchbacks, or what Buddy Miles once characterized “Them Changes,” and it feels as though the listener has experienced a lifetime in one day.

“Tall Grass” is the lone original song, written by Dave and Jesse, inspired by conversations the pair had driving to the recording studio. Something of a tone poem, the evanescent instrumentation slowly takes shape, latticing plangent acoustic arpeggios, ricocheting electric riffs, sinewy bass, shaded keys and a ticklish beat. Lyrics like “Long gone the past, I call to you across the tall grass, I call to you across the tall grass.” speaks to our vanishing ecology, the passage of time and the longing for something just out of reach. As the tempo slowly accelerates, guitars arc and whir, shiver and quake, mirroring the lyrics’ conflicting emotions. By the break, cymbals crash, power chords slash and a modal guitar solo echoes an ancient Taqsim. It builds to a cataclysmic crescendo before collapsing in a heap.

On their debut, The Third Mind offered up a desolate version Fred Neil’s anti-war treatise, “Dolphins.” To close out this set, they resurrect another Neil nugget, “A Little Bit Of Rain.” In typical Third Mind fashion, they augment the original skeletal arrangement with dewy guitars, shadowy keys, prowling bass and a pointillist beat. Something of a restless farewell, lines like “And if I look back, I’ll remember all the good times, warm days filled with sunshine, and just a little bit of rain, just a little bit of rain,” signal the end of the affair. Courtly Spanish guitars and keening electric riffs intertwine on the extended outro, allowing for a graceful exit. It’s a moodily elegant finish to a splendid record.

The Third Mind collectively produced and spontaneously arranged 2. Guesting on piano, Hammond B3 and Mellotron is L.A. legend Willie Aron (Balancing Act, Thee Holy Brothers).

This record almost didn’t happen. In the last few years, Dave has dealt with some serious health issues. While enduring various cancer treatments, he was physically incapable of playing or even practicing guitar due to pain in his hands from neuropathy caused by chemotherapy and radiation. Recently, the pain has lessened to a tolerable degree and he began practicing guitar every day to get back to where he was before the treatments. He considers it a good signpost on his road to recovery. His playing here is cutting and sublime.

Like its predecessor, 2 distills a plethora of influences- Modern Jazz, Blues, Folk and Psychedelia- into a heady brew. Equal parts crisp and economical, sprawling and ambitious, with none of that bitter, Jam Band aftertaste.