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CD REVIEW -- Nick Moss Band
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The High Cost of Low Living

Alligator Records

Nick Moss Band Alligator CD


By Mark Baier

Chicago’s very own Nick Moss is no stranger to readers of the Chicago Blues Guide. For over a quarter century, he’s been a dominant force in the local scene, bringing his explosive mastery of the guitar to clubs, festival stages and homes far and wide thanks to his unrelenting touring schedule and superb recordings. Now, after a dozen self-produced CDs on his own Blue Bella Records, Moss steps up to the plate with The High Cost Of Low Living, his first release for the titan of all blues labels, Alligator. This major CD release is nothing less than a powerhouse recording, one which should solidify Nick Moss as one of a handful of blues artists that are at the pinnacle worldwide. And make no mistake about it, The High Cost of Low Living is blues at its most reverent; stripped down and as honest as it gets. After dabbling in harder blues-rock and jam band styles over the recent years, Moss has found his happy home back where it started, playing straight blues with an ensemble of top notch players that include New Jersey harmonica ace, Dennis Gruenling. 


Gruenling, a riveting performer and masterful harmonica player, is a perfect foil for Moss’s take-no-prisoners guitar stylings, trading licks and standing his ground where a lesser player would fold under the pressure. Sharing the stage with Moss is no small feat, he’s a mountain of a man, but Gruenling commands the audience’s attention with his captivating playing and enthralling stage presence. In addition to Moss and Gruenling on guitar, harp and vocals, the band consists of Taylor Streiff on piano, Nick Fane on bass and Patrick Seals on drums. Moss and company set up shop at “Rancho de Rhythm” studios and tracked the entire recording live in the spirit of 2120 S. Michigan Ave. Guitar aficionados will appreciate that Moss employed absolutely no effects or modern processing on his guitar tracks; it’s guitar plugged straight into a vintage style tube amp. Six strings and the truth, baby!


“Crazy Little Baby” kicks off HCOLL with a slashing guitar lick that easily could’ve been thrown down by Pee Wee Crayton, and in Moss’s hands it sounds fresh and immediate, setting the tenor perfectly for what is to follow. Whether it’s the classic jump blues of “Get Right Before You Get Left” or the Elmore James inspired shuffle “No Sense,” Moss and company honor the timelessness of blues music played with reverence and style. There is not even a hint of showboating or overplaying by any band member. Moss, a player who’s not known for shying away from an extended virtuoso guitar solo, never over states the case here. The instrumental flourishes are tight and meaningful, whether guitar or harmonica, and always serve the song first. Every note means something on HCOLL.


The bakers dozen of tracks includes eight Moss originals and a pair of tunes penned by Gruenling. Standout tracks include “He Walked With Giants,” Moss’s poignant tribute to the great blues pianist Barrelhouse Chuck who played with Nick for decades before his untimely passing. Streiff treads on the sacred ground with honor and feeling. Gruenling’s “Lesson To Learn,” which features Kid Andersen on rhythm guitar and Jim Pugh (B.B. King, Robert Cray, Etta James) on piano, is a joy to listen to, with its sneaky rhythms, soulful vocals and bold melodic instrumental interplay. 


In addition to playing rhythm guitar on “Lesson to Learn,” Kid Andersen served as co-producer along with Moss. Andersen, owner of Greaseland Studio in San Jose, is renowned as the guy who knows how to make a new recording sound like a classic, and his skills are evident on every cut. It’s clearly traditional blues, but it sounds fresh and contemporary, like a real band, playing this time-honored music now, not the way it sounded 60 years ago. It’s a terrific feeling and soul that Moss and Andersen have created, honoring the past, but never wallowing in it. Clearly these are modern artists at the top of their game.


With the release of HCOLL, Alligator’s stable of artists now includes one of the hardest working, highest energy, barnstorming blues bands on the planet, and truth told, it‘s a pairing that was inevitable. Upon listening to The High Cost Of Low Living, it’s clear that Chicago's most recognizable cultural export is in excellent hands.





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