Blues acts often lose a lot of their verve in a studio situation. Maybe it's the lack of a raucous audience clutching brown bottles by the neck and urging on the Dionysian revel from the back of the room. Or maybe it's just the deadening effect of multi-tracking. To be perfectly honest, I really don't know. But the fact is when a band manages to release a fun, freewheeling blues set like Alley Cat, it's cause for celebration.
Local blues harpist Andy Linderman and his longtime guitar-playing foil, Mel Ford, have worked together for so many years that their easygoing interplay is no surprise. But what may surprise some of their fans is the polished five-piece unit's mastery of jumping material that borrows its sass from rockabilly and its feel from zydeco, New Orleans-style rock 'n' roll and R&B. Whether they're bopping through the dance-floor-ready title track, tearing into the barrelhouse rock 'n' roll of "She's Hot" (one of several tracks on which keyboardist Jimmy Voegeli shines) or generating some breezy R&B on the harmonica feature "Back Roads," these seasoned pros never fail to work up a buoyant group sound.
There are some fine solos here, too, including a few terse, stabbing efforts by Linderman that make a virtue of economy and Ford's light, jazzy single-note runs on the swinging organ groove "Around the Next Corner." But they aren't the reason that Alley Cat stands out in sea of bland contemporary blues albums. No, it's the feel of this disc that makes it special. When you spin it, it's as if you're in a cramped, sweat-scented barroom along with these guys, enjoying something alcoholic and rocking along with 'em.