September 27, 2023
The Nick Moss Band featuring Dennis Gruenling – Get Your Back into It!

The Nick Moss Band featuring Dennis Gruenling – Get Your Back into It!

Alligator Records ALCD 5013

14 songs – 52 minutes

The Nick Moss Band featuring Dennis Gruenling were at the pinnacle of the blues world prior to COVID, capturing band, song and album-of-the year honors in 2020, and they pick up exactly where they left off with this sensational CD. It’s a tidal wave of 14 intense originals that venture into new territory as they add their own, updated take on jump blues and swing to their usual mix of traditional Windy City stylings.

It should come as no surprise for fans of either of these larger-than-life characters and longtime friends. They’ve steadily found common ground after coming together officially in 2016. It’s truly a marriage of talent from opposite regions of the blues world. Guitarist and Chicago native Nick is the last student of Jimmy Rogers — one of the architects of the golden age of the city’s sound, while New Jersey native/harp player extraordinaire Dennis has made a career out of putting his own spin on music born in café society nightclubs in the ‘40s and ‘50s.

A meeting of the minds of instrumentalists who’ve both won BMA awards at their positions, their stage presence is an interesting mix of Moss’ powerful, but understated Midwest cool with Gruenling’s high-energy flash. Combine that talent with the rest of their lineup — Brazilian-born Rodrigo Mantovani, one of the most revered bass players in the world today; St. Louis-born Taylor Streiff, a star in his own right on keyboards; and the rock-solid Pierce Downer,  who just turned 21,  on percussion — and it’s impossible to find a better group anywhere.

Co-produced by Moss and Mantovani and recorded by Pete Galanis at Rancho de Rhythm in Elgin, Ill., with additional work at 3011 Studios and The Boiler Room in Chicago, this set also includes appearances by “Sax” Gordon Beadle and “Brother” John Kattke, who sits in on organ for one cut.

The heat’s on high for “The Bait in the Snare,” a rollicking jump number propelled by a stinging guitar run to open. It’s a smooth, lilting serving suggests it’s best to avoid trouble if you want to survive in this crazy world. “Aurelie,” a steady-driving blues, pays tribute to the nation of France and one of its finest femmes then gives way seamlessly to “Get Your Back into It,” which deals with love at first sight and encourages a lady into an immediate hook-up. It’s powered by standout mid-tune solos from Gruenling and Streiff.

Gruenling takes center stage on mic and reeds for the rousing jump, “Man on the Move,” which initially finds him fueled by coffee and with a full plate of chores but then describes the constant travels of a very busy musician. Listeners can catch their breath a little as Nick launches into the slow blues, “Living in Heartache,” a number that would have fit hand-and-glove into the setlist of Robert Nighthawk in the ‘60s, before Rodrigo and Taylor get space to shine in “It Shocks Me Out,” a stop-time number that also comes with classic blues appeal.

Kattke and Gordon join the lineup for “Out of the Woods,” adding a classic ‘40s jazz edge to a jump instrumental unlike anything Moss has recorded before. And his single-note mid-tune solo swings from the hip. It’s back to the oh-so-smooth blues for “Choose Wisely,” however, with Nick delivering more cautionary advice: You’re going to have to live with the consequences of bad decisions, so think before you decide. It gives way to “Your Bark Is Worse Than Your Bite,” a straight-ahead boogie delivered by Gruenling, before Moss is back in charge for “Losing Ground,” which states that it’s definitely better to be in a rocky romance than no romance at all.

Downer’s rock-solid rhumba beat drives the instrumental, “Bones’ Cantina,” steadily forward as Nick and Dennis pay tribute to a fallen friend before “Lonely Fool” serves up a brokenhearted lament about sleeping in an empty bed. “The Solution,” a deep-azure tip-of-the-hat to guitarist Jimmy Johnson, follows before Moss adopts a surf-guitar sound for the instrumental, “Scratch ‘n’ Sniff,” to close.

The Nick Moss Band has been on a steady trajectory into the heavens since joining the Alligator roster in 2018, and Get Your Back into It! is their best release yet. You’re going to wear this one out!

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