The Nick Moss Band featuring Dennis Gruenling
By Tom Baldino
Local harp master Dennis Gruenling has been playing with Chicago bluesman Nick Moss and his band since they teamed up for the highly successful “The High Cost of Low Living” in 2018. That year they headlined the Long Branch Jazz and Blues Festival and they have been on an upward trajectory ever since. Nick was subsequently named Traditional Blues Male Artist of the Year at the BMA’s, and they went on to release a second highly acclaimed work, “Lucky Guy.” This year’s “Get Your Back into It!” is now riding high on the blues charts and pays homage to the sounds heard in the juke joints found on the Chitlin’ Circuit in the mid twentieth century, while being fresh and vibrant. Their third release on Bruce Iglauer’s Alligator Records, this collection absolutely lives up to their motto “Genuine Houserockin’ Music!”
The band, led by Nick on guitar and vocals, features Dennis on harp and vocals, including Taylor Streiff on piano and keyboards, Rodrigo Mantovani on upright and electric bass and percussion, and Pierce Downer on drums. “Sax” Gordon Beadle and “Brother” John Kattke on organ appear on the cut “Out Of The Woods.” Looking at the cover artwork, it sets the tone for the fourteen original songs contained within, and I recommend you have your dancing shoes on when listening.
The opening track of this original collection, “The Bait In The Snare” offers that age old advice from Nick, you better “look before you leap,” set to a rollicking beat. Things slow down just a bit with “Aurelie,” a travel dialogue set in France, with plenty of wine and Nick’s stinging guitar runs. The title track “Get Your Back Into It” features a heavy dose of Dennis and that wonderful harp and vintage mic sound, with Taylor’s piano runs adding to the fun. “Man On The Move” opens with Pierce’s drums announcing life on the road, with Dennis vocals and a heavy dose of unique harp styling. This song will certainly keep you moving as well.
Things slow down when Nick sings some lowdown dirty blues punctuated with his crying guitar on the longest track here, “Living In Heartache.” “It Shocks Me Out” features Rodrigo’s standup bass sound and is highlighted by Nick’s great lyrics about said bass, taking the phrase double entendre to a new level. The instrumental “Out Of The Woods” features Gordon’s sax and John’s organ playing and solos along with an excellent swing sound provided by the band. “Chose Wisely” is a cautionary tale highlighted by Nick’s terrific lyrics set to a mid-tempo number that allows Dennis to lay a great solo over the top. “Your Bark Is Worse Is Worse Than Your Bite” has a Bo Diddley feel, with the band giving it their own spin and creating a fresh sound that carries the story of an age old situation. “Losing Ground” again has Nick giving some sound advice to the listener with a healthy dose of harmonica, while Dennis is again able to tailor his harp sound to the tune. “Bone’s Cantina,” another instrumental, begins with a tom-tom island like beat followed in succession by Nick’s reverb drenched guitar and a swampy harp that swings into the strains of “La Cucaracha.” Next up, “Lonely Fool,” again features Nick on vocals with Taylor back on piano and contains some great guitar and harmonica interplay on this song that I could envision in a late night, smoke-filled juke joint. “The Solution” is dedicated to Chicago bluesman Jimmy Johnson who left us last year, and channels that classic home town blues sound; smooth as silk, this song has a killer groove. The closer, “Scratch ‘N’ Sniff” is an ode to the great surf tunes of the sixties, with the ghosts of Duane Eddy and Bill Doggett as inspiration, but again featuring the band’s unique take on the style. In my humble opinion, this is some of the best work Nick Moss has created, and in the more than able hands of the band, with Dennis Gruenling’s superb harp, this is an award winner in the making.