13 songs – 56 minutes
Nick Moss needs no introduction to most Blues Blast Magazine readers, having been a stalwart of the Chicago blues scene for over 20 years, releasing 12 albums on his own Blue Bella label. His latest album, The High Cost Of Low Living, however, gives cause for celebration for all fans of modern, electric blues. Having dabbled in blues-rock and jam-band material on recent releases, Moss has very much shifted his focus back to pure electric blues on his new album. Further, the Nick Moss Band (NMB) now includes the serious harmonica talents of Dennis Gruenling, while the album was co-produced by the legend who is Kid Andersen (who also contributes guitar and percussion to a couple of songs). The result is an absolutely belting album of Chicago blues that neatly treads a fine line between Moss’s old school guitar stylings and modern tastes and tones.
The album opens with a single note guitar riff from Moss on “Crazy Mixed Up Baby” before the entire band weighs in on a classic shuffle groove. Gruenling lays down a swooping, soaring harp solo, but it is apparent that each member of the NMB is firing on all cylinders on this album. Drummer Patrick Seals and bassist Nick Fane lay down a series of exemplary grooves throughout, particularly on shuffles like “No Sense”, while Taylor Streiff adds his usual subtle but effective piano parts. There is a muscular toughness to the NMB that reflects both the sheer number of gigs the band has played together and the city they call home.
Moss lays down a series of powerful guitar solos, including a classic slide guitar line in the title track and sings his smartly written lyrics in his warm, weathered voice. In addition to his imperious harp playing, Gruenling contributes vocals to “Count On Me” (with its hilarious Keith Ferguson-esque spoken intro) and “Lesson To Learn”, while guest Jim Pugh provides organ on “All Night Diner” and piano on “Lesson To Learn”.
The whip-smart jump blues of “Get Right Before You Get Left” ensures that the temperature remains high as the band tear through the Elmore James-esque title track, the rockabilly of “Count On Me” and the upbeat boogie of “Get Your Hands Out Of My Pockets”. There is an infectious sense of both purpose and fun about this music although it’s probably fair to say that one of the emotional highlights of the album is “He Walked With Giants”, a slow blues dedicated to much-missed Barrelhouse Chuck that features a lovely extended solo from Streiff.
Moss wrote eight of the tracks on the album, with Gruenling contributing two songs and the others being nicely selected covers of “Rambling On My Mind” (attributed here to Boyd Gilmour rather than Robert Johnson and played at a sprightly clip), Otis Spann’s “Get Your Hands Out Of My Pockets” and the old Santo & Johnny instrumental, “All Night Diner”, which is given a shot of modern adrenalin and attitude.
The High Cost Of Low Living is a top class album of modern Chicago blues. There is real chemistry between Moss and Gruenling and it will be fascinating to see what these guys get up to next. In the meantime, however, this is a pretty essential purchase.