VizzTone Label Group/Backbender Records VT-BBR-712
13 songs – 48 minutes
World-class harmonica player Dennis Gruenling swings from the lip and his longtime musical partners Doug Deming & The Jewel Tones swing from the hip as they deliver this tasty, all-original collection of modern jump blues that comes complete with the unmistakable feel of the ‘40s heyday of jump and early rock ’n’ roll.
A self-taught musician and sought-after instructor who’s played professionally since the mid-’90s with six previous records as a leader to his credit, Dennis takes a major leap of faith with this one, conquering his own insecurities and providing vocals for the very first time under the guidance of producer Steve Conti, who’s worked previously with the New York Dolls, Willy De Ville and Company Of Wolves. If he was nervous behind the mike, it doesn’t show. He doesn’t have a five-octave range. Few folks do. But his voice is pleasant, and his timing impeccable.
Based in New Jersey, where he hosts “Blues & The Beat” on WFDU-FM and deals in vintage microphones, Gruenling also spends time in the Tampa Bay area of Florida, where Deming and upright and acoustic bass player Andrew Gohman, are based. Mike Bram, a member of Dennis’ Jump Time band, provides percussion. Rounding out the sound are keyboard player Dave Keyes, sax player Doug Sasfai, upright bassist Matt Raymond, multi-instrumentalist Dave Gross, who provided backing vocals, and Conti, who adds acoustic guitar on one cut in addition to providing backing vocals and rhythm.
All of the material on Ready Or Not was captured live the old-fashioned way – on two-inch audio tape at Atomic Sound in Brooklyn, N.Y., and during a blizzard. Gruenling plays Hohner harmonicas exclusively, customized by Richard Sleigh and Joe Filisko, two of the best harp technicians in the world today. He’s on chromatic 270 Deluxe and Super 64X models for most of the set, varying his sound with occasional breaks on diatonic Marine Bands and Crossover models, too.
Gruenling and the drummer trade rapid-fire beats and runs to kick off the rocker, “Knockin’ My Knees,” which finds the singer “thinkin’ ’bout the birds and bees” as his knees display nervous lust for a pretty lady. It’s a catchy dance number that would have been perfect for a high school hop in the ’60s. Solos from Deming and Gruenling are both powerful and all too brief. The boogie “Missing Person” refers to a woman who’s changed so much, she’s almost unrecognizable. Dennis’ harp hook drives the song forward, aided by rapid triples from Bram that are high in mix.
The title cut, “Ready Or Not,” is another light, pleasant rocker accompanied by handclaps that warns a lady that he’s on the way for romance. Dennis’ chromatic solo is as sweet as his lyrical message. He delivers advice to keep control of your temper to succeed in what you do in “Simmer Down,” an uptempo blues with a syncopated beat, before drawing your attention to a lady who loves to dance, but has two left feet in “Little Sugar.” It has a Texas roadhouse feel.
Next up, the tongue-in-cheek jump tune “If You Wanna Rock (You Gotta Have That Roll)” suggests that women are only interested in a man with a large bankroll. It features stellar guitar work from Deming, and will have folks rushing to the dance floor. It precedes a loping, bluesy warning that you’d better be “Ready To Burn” if you choose to pursue a certain lady because she’ll definitely torch you because there’s no way to escape.
Grueling’s talents on the chromatic are on full display for the rapid-fire instrumental “Rockin’ With The Rev” before he delivers four different on romance. “Won’t You Come Back” is delivered from the point of desperation a man feels when he fears a relationship is over but the only emotion he seems able to express is rage, “Open The Door” describes a guy who can’t hold back his desire any more, “Think Twice” warns a wrong-doing woman that she could soon be gone while “Give Me Back My Heart” is someone who can’t believe the angel he fell for is such a thief. A minor key instrumental, “Count Chromatic,” brings the set to a close.
Available through most online retailers or directly from the label, Ready Or Not proves beyond a doubt that Dennis can hold his own as a singer in addition to being one heck of a harp player. Strongly recommended.