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CD Review -- Nick Moss

Nick Moss
Privileged
Blue Bella
Nick Moss Privileged CD
by Mark Baier

In the city of Big Shoulders, Nick Moss casts an even bigger shadow. Those privileged enough to have witnessed his musical schooling, first with Jimmy Dawkins and Buddy Scott, later with the great Jimmy Rogers, know the gravitas and level of professionalism Moss brings to the party. Certainly his virtuosity was evident from the beginning, his bold ascension to the bass chair in Dawkins’ band being uncommonly audacious. Over the years, this tutelage under the scions of Chicago Blues has borne some heavy fruit.

 

His discography is strongly and deeply rooted in tradition, starting with his late ‘90s debut, First Offense, and most memorably, his landmark 2007 double CD, Play It ‘Til Tomorrow, which earned Nick Moss & The Flip Tops the Blues Blast Music Award for Best Blues Song for “Mistakes From The Past”. Blues Revue Magazine included the CD in its Top 25 Best Blues Albums of the Decade.  2009 saw Moss & the Flip Tops take home the Blues Blast Music Award for Best Blues Band. Over the years, they have been nominated for numerous W.C. Handy and Blues Music Awards.

 

            With his new release, Privileged, Moss takes this true Blue foundation and builds a musical masterwork that transcends convention and breaks down the doors to a wider audience.  Moss’ eighth CD, Privileged,  kicks off with the spirited box shuffle “Born Leader”, recognizable as blues reinvented, the swirling organ and dense instrumental textures commanding equal attention with his  larger-than-life guitar riffing. The next track, Howlin’ Wolf’s “Louise”, finds Moss channeling RL Burnside into a rollicking, grooving Delta barnstormer. The guitars uncoil from the swamp, lashing out with venom and a blood-red eye, weaving in and out like Medusa’s head with sharpened teeth. The deceptively simple groove builds into a crescendo of menacing sonic heat, reminiscent of Exile era Stones. After a sweeter turn with the acoustic slide on “Georgia Redsnake”, Moss serves notice that the Boss is in the house with the unrepentantly rocking songs “Privileged at Birth” and “Politician”.  Moss’ strict Cream-era interpretation is so blatantly derivative that it amounts to a smackdown challenge to all comers. His matchless guitar vocabulary and authenticity gives the selection an awareness and purpose that would be forgettable or dreary in any less competent hands. Warning: Nick Moss will cut your head.

 

“She’s So Fine (Born Blind)” finds Moss continuing this theme, taking “Born Blind (Rice Miller’s “Eyesight to the Blind”) and straining it through Eric Clapton and Cream’s classic version of “Crossroads”. Once again, Moss’ bold, take-no-prisoners guitar is a sonic smack in the side of the head. Don’t try this at home.

 

 “Tear ‘Em Down” finds Moss and company quarrying material that will be more familiar to fans of the Black Crowes than Jimmy Dawkins. A careful listen will reveal luscious tones and musical detail that marry the exhilaration of great rock ‘n’ roll with the soul of great Blues. Moss and the band really do display an underlying sense of rhythm and restraint that distinguishes this material from its less knowledgeable purveyors. Be warned: Nick Moss will kick your ass. Despite its jammy exterior, this is music that has been carefully crafted and thought out; there is a maturity and depth to these arrangements that signify Nick Moss’s emergence not only as a musical artist but as a sensitive producer as well.

 

            Perhaps to that end, Moss has made the decision to reassemble his instrumental backing for Privileged. Gone is the “Flip Tops” moniker, its association being so emblematic of his traditional Blues band that its use here would be ineffective. This is music that demands a more careful listen than the appellation “The Flip Tops” would suggest. With a band that includes at various times “Brother John” Kattke (keyboards), Gerry Hundt (guitar, mandolin), Stumpy Hutchkins (bass) and Bob Carter (drums), Moss has found a group of top flight musicians that interact like only a seasoned band can. Their sympathetic musical senses are a delight to listen to. Particularly notable is Moss’ pure ’60s soul version of Buffalo Springfield's “For What It’s Worth”. It’s the only tune on Privileged not sung by Moss, with drummer Carter assuming the lead. His rendering of this cultural classic leaves the listener wondering if Moss has plans to showcase Carter’s vocal prowess more often. This change of pace song selection is a real gem.

 

With “Why Should I Care”, Moss mines the ore from Billy Gibbons’ rich Z.Z. Top blues rock formation and, in the process, serves up another selection that is pure, stompin’ and heartfelt. This is Blues accelerated into high gear on a full tank. “Your Love’s A Lie” and the instrumental “Bolognious Funk” bring the CD to a coda and again represent the marriage of blues and rock that flows so naturally from Privileged. Fans of the Grateful Dead/Government Mule traveling minstrel show will find a lot to dig into here. The aural landscape is rich in detail and harmony, the moods and musical changes are always consonant and easy to enjoy. Tap your feet, darlin’, and put on your tie-dye; it’s karma dancing time.

 

The natural evolution of Nick Moss as an artist, from a foundational blues purist to a modern cross generational musician, is revealed in full on Privileged. At his core, it is the Blues that informs his vocabulary and rhythm, this same fuel being so fundamental to rock ’n’ roll’s official inception in the 1950s. For Nick Moss, the roots are deep and fertile, full of life. For years he has made records that were aimed directly and solely at the Blues community. With Privileged, Moss has served notice that he is playing a different tune, one less concerned with historical purity as it is with evolutionary honesty.  Nick Moss is a guitarist for the Ages; Privileged is his gift to Modern Man.

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