Blues Bytes

Surprise

July 2020

Andrew Alli
Hard Workin' Man

EllerSoul Records

Andrew Alli

I recently received an email from one of the honchos at EllerSoul Records asking for my mailing address so that they could send me the new album by Andrew Alli. I had never heard of the dude, but I trust EllerSoul to never steer me wrong. And, oh man, am I ever glad they sent me this copy of Hard Workin' Man, the first CD in Alli's name after he shared a self-titled album two years earlier with guitarist Josh Small.

Introducing this fine young musician to you, Alli is a very good harmonica player and singer, originally from Richmond, Virginia. He learned the harp by listening to the masters like Big Walter Horton, Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson and Junior Wells, developing his own brand of straight-ahead blues. Alli is joined on Hard Workin' Man by a crack ensemble of musicians, including Jon Atkinson (guitar & bass), Carl Sonny Leyland (piano), Danny Michel (guitar), Devin Neel (drums) and Buddy Honeycutt (drums).

The title cut opens the album in fine fashion, a standard Chicago-style 12-bar blues that introduces us to Alli's harmonica virtuosity and raw Southside vocals, and then he further cements his reputation on the harp with the fast-moving instrumental, "AA Boogie."

Every single one of the album's dozen cuts are quite fine, but my favorite is the Alli original, "Going Down South," with a rumba rhythm, effective muffled vocals from Alli and killer slide guitar from either Atkinson or Michel. While George Smith isn't listed in Alli's bio as one of his inspirations, I have to think he listened to a lot of Harmonica George's music; the version of Smith's "Good Things" is outstanding, a mid-tempo blues shuffle that includes some of his best harmonica work. Alli pays tribute to both of the Walters for his other two covers, a pleasant lilting blues, "Walter's Sun," from the pen of Mr. Horton, and a jazzier version of Little Walter's "One More Chance." Some really nice guitar work on this one.

Another smokin' instrumental is "Chrom-A-Thick," with Alli showing that he's just as capable of handling the more complex chromatic harmonica, and he just keeps blowing away for nearly two and a half minutes while the band puts down a solid blues beat. Alli also flexes his harmonica chops on the up-tempo blues, "Easy Going Man," confidently announcing that he's dressed up right and ready for the night. This sounds like something that would have come out of Chicago back in the 1950s, but is instead an Alli original. We get to hear one of the best guitar solos of the album midway through the song. This one will be running through your head for quite some time after just a few repeated listenings --- I guarantee it!

Closing the album is the very nice up-tempo blues, "So Long," with more strong guitar from one of our players and equally fine piano accompaniment from Leyland.

I'm hooked, folks. I've taken my seat on the Andrew Alli bandwagon, and can't wait to hear what's next from this young bluesman. Be sure to score your own copy of Hard Workin' Man real soon.

--- Bill Mitchell

Note: In researching Andrew Alli's background, I noticed that Ivan Appelrouth was the guitarist in one of his previous bands. Ivan was a good friend of mine during my time living in North Carolina in the 1980s, and I was heartbroken when I got the news that Ivan passed away last fall. He was an incredibly talented musician and an even better person. I dedicate this review to the memory of Ivan Appelrouth. RIP, my friend.

 

 

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