The Nick Moss Band Featuring Dennis Gruenling – Lucky Guy!

The Nick Moss Band Featuring Dennis Gruenling – Lucky Guy!

Alligator Records ALCD 4993

14 songs – 57 minutes

The Nick Moss Band was already riding high when this album was released. Not only did both Nick and Dennis Gruenling win a Blues Music Award for traditional artist and harmonica player of the year, but the entire band and their most recent previous CD, The High Cost of Low Living, garnered nominations, too.

But if you think that the Chicago-based quintet set a bar too high for themselves to overcome in the next awards season, you’re sorely mistaken. Lucky Guy! Is even better!

Nick enlisted the big guns for this one, which was dedicated to the memory of former bandmate, best friend and “li’l brother” Mike Ledbetter, who died suddenly and unexpectedly earlier this year after rocketing to stardom as half of the Welch-Ledbetter Connection after the release of Right Place, Right Time and winning BMA honors last year.

The album was recorded at Greaseland Studios in California by Kid Andersen, who’s no stranger to awards ceremonies himself, and Andersen contributes guitar and mandolin on five of the 14 cuts. And Monster Mike Welch teams with Moss for a poignant tribute to his playing partner to bring the disc to a close.

Moss’ longtime, rock-steady drummer, Patrick Seals, is sitting behind the kit throughout, joined by the electrifying Taylor Streiff on keyboards. Kicking things up a notch is Brazilian-born newcomer Rodrigo Mantovani, who established himself as one of the top upright and electric bassists in the world while playing behind Igor Prado, Lynwood Slim and others.

From the opening cuts of “312 Blood,” Nick’s tribute to his Windy City home, Lucky Guy! is scorching hot. The arrangements are skintight, but leave plenty of space for attention-grabbing solos beginning with Streiff ripping and running in the opening break before Gruenling – who was also recently honored by the Society for the Preservation and Advancement of Harmonica as its international player of the year — and Moss trade eights on the second one. Midwesterners will love Nick’s description of the city as “New York done right.”

“Ugly Woman,” the only cover in the set, follows. A number recorded for Sun Records by Johnny O’Neal in the early ‘60s, but never released as a single, it’s one of the most unusual love songs you’ll ever hear. The rhythm section pulls out of the station with a brisk jump-time railroad feel as Moss describes his lady in some of unkindest, but most humorous words ever put to record. One listen, and you’ll agree.

“Lucky Guy,” an uptempo shuffle, finds Moss singing to the heavens about his lady accompanied by blazing solos before the mood darkens considerably for the slow blues, “Sanctified, Holy and Hateful,” a not-so-subtle statement about religious zealots pushing their own beliefs without any compassion or understanding of folks with different views. Nick’s extended, mid-tune solo absolutely smokes before he offers up a plea for them to open their hearts.

“Movin’ on My Way,” the first of two Gruenling originals here, is up next. An uptempo jump with choral response on the turns, it’s a parting shot after the implosion of a relationship, and it features a chunky guitar solo from Andersen. The traditional, medium-slow blues, “Tell Me There’s Nothing Wrong,” keeps the theme going before picking up tempo for “Full Moon Ache.” Delivered with a country-blues feel and propelled by Dennis’ harp, Nick’s daytime headache subsides with the moonrise.

The loping “Me and My Friends” is fair notice that the band’s heading for a boys’ night out before a tour-de-force instrumental entitled “Hot Zucchini.” The old-school Chicago blues, “Simple Minded,” describes someone who’s extremely timid before Gruenling takes the mike for his own “Wait and See,” a warning to a lady that he’s got her in his eye.

“As Good as It Gets” sings praise of a lady with an uptempo, old-school feel before “Cutting the jazzy Monkey’s Tail” swings from the jump. The action closes with Moss on vocals and Monster Mike on six-string for “The Comet,” an intimate, barebones tribute to Ledbetter, whose brief life and amazing talent soared like the celestial body and streaked across the sky before disappearing from sight.

Available through most major retailers, and highly recommended. Run, don’t walk, to pick this one up. It’s that good!

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