Release date: August 9, 2019
14 Tracks / 57:24 By Mark Thompson
It has been a great year already for Nick Moss and his stellar band. In May, they arrived in Memphis riding high on the success of their first Alligator Records release, The High Cost Of Low Living, which received two Blues Music Award nominations along with one for the band. And after twenty-six nominations over the last sixteen years, Moss finally heard his name called as the recipient of the 2019 Blues Music Award for Traditional Male Blues Artist. Adding to the enjoyment, his partner-in-crime, Dennis Gruenling, received the award for Blues Instrumentalist – Harmonica on his third nomination. And, after utilizing several players after Nick Fane left the band, Moss settled on one of the finest bass players on the planet, Rodrigo Mantovani, formerly of the Igor Prado Band, as the newest member of his exceptional aggregation.
Now the band hits us with another superlative release, recorded at Greaseland Studios under the watchful eye of the “Shaman of all things recorded,” Kid Andersen, who also plays a variety of stringed instruments. Mantovani joins long-time drummer Patrick Seals to create a fluid, dynamic rhythm section that lays down one deep groove after another. Keyboard ace Taylor Streiff has come into his own, building on lessons learned from listening to Otis Spann and studying with the late Barrelhouse Chuck, and now sharing a personal take on the Chicago blues piano traditions. With the veterans Moss and Gruenling leading the way, the group burns through one masterful performance after another, each one brimming with exhilarating energy and inspiration.
The disc opens with a romp through “312 Blood,” a Moss tribute to his Chicago area roots, with Streiff breaking out his Wurlitzer keyboard. The lone cover, “Ugly Woman,” is a rousing shuffle with the band straining at the reins, just waiting for the chance to cut loose. Moss delivers a humorous vocal, then lights things up with some of his six-string magic.
When Gruenling, Count Chromatic himself, takes over on two tracks he wrote, he takes listeners back to the sounds of the early days of rock & roll. “Movin' On My Way” cruises along in overdrive, with Moss and Andersen trading licks after an inspired Streiff solo. Then Gruenling jumps in to finish things off, blowing a torrid stream of horn-like sounds on his chromatic harmonica. His other original, “Wait And See,” has Streiff plunking away on piano underneath Gruenling's raw vocal. His dynamic harp blowing and some blistering work from Moss takes things to a whole different level.
Songs like “Tell Me There's Nothing Wrong” and “Simple Minded” illustrates the band's complete mastery of the Chicago blues traditions that Moss learned in his formative years from mentors like Jimmy “Fast Fingers” Dawkins, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, and Jimmy Rogers. Andersen brightens up the latter cut with some well-placed mandolin accompaniment that sparks an aggressive response from Moss. The title song, “Lucky Guy,” features an earnest vocal from Moss, as the band members play complimentary parts that coalesce into a thrilling sound that can only be accomplished when each member truly listens to what is going on around him.
Two instrumentals, “Hot Zucchini” and “Cutting The Monkey's Tail,” testify that they excel at a variety of styles, settling into a deep, funky groove on the former number with Streiff showcasing his abilities on the Hammond B-3 organ, while Gruenling blows some richly detailed lines on the latter track.
Another standout track is “Me And My Friends,” a joyful ode from Moss promising a memorable night out with the guys, with the rest of the band on backing vocals. “Full Moon Ache” adds some rockabilly flavoring to the mix, complete with Moss howling away, possibly inspired by Gruenling's beautifully crafted solo. Moss lays down a sparkling rhythm guitar part on “As Good As It Gets,” setting Gruenling up for a spell-binding harp foray that is worth multiple listens. Moss takes some of the powers that be to task on “Sanctified, Holy And Hateful,” an impassioned slow blues with plenty of stinging guitar. The closing tune, “The Comet,” features Monster Mike Welch on lead guitar on a tribute to the late Michael Ledbetter, who worked closely with both guitar players. The somber track has a stripped-down arrangement with Welch giving voice to the depth of their loss with his intimate, forlorn slide playing.
It can be hard to top an award-nominated recording. The Nick Moss Band certainly succeeds, setting the bar even higher on Lucky Guy. Listeners get a compelling batch of original material in a variety of styles to keep things interesting. When these five fellows are making music together, the world is a better place. Make no mistake......this is one of the finest real blues albums you will hear this year. Or any year!
About the Author: Mark Thompson lives in Bradenton, Florida and serves as the president of the Suncoast Blues Society. A former Chicago area native, he also acted as the president of Rockford/Byron's Crossroads Blues Society. Thompson writes for many blues publications and serves on the Board for the Blues Foundation in Memphis, which hosts the annual Blues Music Awards and International Blues Challenge events.