Your Complete Guide to the Chicago Blues Scene
NICK MOSS BAND
From the Root to the Fruit
Blue Bella Records
BBLR 1023 (2016)
With Special Guests:
DAVID HIDALGO (track 7 on CD 2),
JASON RICCI (track 12 on CD 1)
SAX GORDON (tracks 2,3 and 5 on CD 1)
by Pierre Lacocque
CD 1: ROOTS
1. Before The Night is Through, 3:12; 2. Make Way For Me, 3:24; 3. Dead Man’s Hand, 4:18; 4. From the Root to the Fruit, 3:54; 5. Haymarket Hop, 5:23; 6. Symone, 4:02; 7. Love Me, 2:29; 8. Lost and Found, 6:16; 9. I Dig, 4:02; 10. Rump Rash, 6:02; 11. Long Tall Woman, 2:44; 12. The Woman I love, 4:28; 13. Walk Away, 5:16; 14. Cold Sore, 1:58.
Total Time: 58:00
CD 2: FRUITS
1. Catch Me I’m Falling, 4:53; 2. Jupiter Florida, 6:03; 3. Breakdown, 6:29; 4. Serves Me Right (Space Jam), 9:43; 5. Ta Ta for Tay Tay, 4:34;
6. Breathe Easy, 7:11; 7. Free Will, 6:35; 8. Grateful, 5:31; 9. Shade Tree, 5:23; 10. Stuck, 5:04; 11. Standby, 6:01; 12. Speak Up, 7:17; 13. Heavy Water, 5:02.
Total Time: 80:00
Producer: Nick Moss
Recorded at the Rancho de Rhythm Studio, Elgin, IL.
Recording Engineers: Ryan Mills, Patrick Seals & Nick Moss
Mixing: Nick Moss & Patrick Seals
Mastering: Dan Steinman
Background vocalists: Tina J. Crawley and Lara Jenkins
Cover art: Pat Moriarty
Design: Kate Moss
Promotion: Stewart Entertainment, LLC (Nashville, TN) Brad@StewartEntertainment.net
"Nick Moss is my favorite guitarist"
“The ultimate goal for any musician is to let your emotions take over when you play or sing … “
An amazing 27 songs awaits you with the Nick Moss Band’s new studio release, From the Root to the Fruit. It presents two musically different CDs, full of originals, featuring two vocalists, Nick Moss and showstopper Michael Ledbetter (who’s ancestry includes his grandfather’s cousin, 12-string/multi- instrumentalist Huddie Williams Ledbetter, better known as “Leadbelly” or “Lead Belly”).
13 original songs written by Moss, 9 by Ledbetter, and 5 covers, one of which was arranged by Moss (CD 2, track 4: “Serves Me Right”). The latter is close to a 10-minute song that wavers between Peter Green/John Mayall-like catchy riffs to a long Jimi Hendrix intense psychedelic musing.
The core band is a quintet: Nick Moss on guitar, harp, and vocals, Michael Ledbetter on rhythm guitar and vocals, Nick Fane on bass, Patrick Seals on drums/percussion, and Taylor Streiff on keyboards. The musical synergy is uncanny. What a tight ensemble! These musicians tour together constantly. And you can hear that tight ensemble feel on the two CDs.
Born on December 15th, 1969 in Chicago, Moss learns by watching his older brother Joe play guitar. Joe eventually buys him a second hand bass guitar, and 11 year-old Nick learns that instrument first. A show by Little Charlie and the Nightcats at the end of his high school days shapes his destiny: He wants to become a professional musician (Note: after high school he was looking at a promising football career but gave that up due to a kidney ailment).
He eventually lands jobs as a bass player with Buddy Scott and the Rib Tips, Jimmy “Fast Fingers” Dawkins, Jimmy Rogers, and The Legendary Blues Band (with Calvin “Fuzz” Jones, Pinetop Perkins and Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, whom he calls “my second father”). He eventually turns to the guitar, which he already knew how to play somewhat, encouraged to do so by then bandleader Willie Smith. The then Legendary Blues Band guitar player, Willie Greeson, had to leave the band due to family problems. He formed Nick Moss and the Flip Tops soon after (now called “The Nick Moss Band” since 2009 because “my musical path changed direction after 2008.” (personal communication, 04/26/16).
Trained as an opera singer, the Nick Moss Band’s lead singer Michael Ledbetter is an inventive and charismatic singer. One vocal note uttered by him and he has got the audience in the palm of his hands. Literally. Few musicians can do that. I have witnessed Carl Weathersby, Deitra Farr, Inetta Visor, and the late Robert Covington do that. The wonderful Sax Gordon (Beadle), who appears on 3 tracks on CD 1 does that too with his saxophone. It is a divine gift.
Ledbetter belongs to the pantheon of super-vocalists. “A supremely gifted singer” (Blues Blast Magazine, Dec. 6, 2012), he belongs with the likes of Donny Hathaway, Stevie Wonder, B.B. King or David Ruffin. He sings on 8 tracks on CD 1, and 6 on CD 2. His vocal range is wide and awesome. As he said in a 2012 Blues Blast Magazine interview (Dec 6th), he started singing “as early as I can remember”. He even sang opera for 8 years in the Chicago area! Eventually he met and connected with Nick and his wife Kate (also a good bass and guitar player), at their recording studio, Rancho de Rhythm, for a background vocal project. The rest is history. Ledbetter joined the band after Moss’ 2011 CD “Here I Am” (personal communication). Legendary blues guitarist Ronnie Earl also tapped Ledbetter’s vocal talent for his 2015 album, Father’s Day.
Ledbetter, who had started learning to play the guitar before meeting Nick Moss, was encouraged by Moss to study it more in depth, to better be able to fit in his band. In fact he learned many of his blues chords and licks from both Nick and Nick’s older brother, Joe (a gifted guitar player and singer in his own right). He has also studied the likes of Robert Jr. Lockwood and Luther Tucker; especially for their supportive guitar works.
Ledbetter is as exciting a singer as are contemporary crooners Sugar Ray Norcia, John Nemeth, Curtis Salgado or Tad Robinson. Along with Moss’s ongoing creative genius, he is also a prolific songwriter. One of his songs here is a heartfelt gentle swing about his one-and-a-half years old daughter Holland Symone (“Symone”, track 6, CD 1): “I’ve got to holler… I’ve got to holler…I’ve found my sunshine in the rain”.
Moss graciously gives Ledbetter the studio’s and stage’s space to express his talents. Quite a gift from a bandleader! In interviews, it is obvious that Ledbetter is appreciative and happy to be a member of the Nick Moss Band.
Ledbetter and Moss had the great honor to perform in a tribute to Lead Belly at Carnegie Hall on Feb. 4, 2016. The concert featured Buddy Guy, Eric Burdon, Guy Davis, Edgar Winter and many more.
CD 1: ROOTS
As CD 1 (Roots) convincingly shows, Moss did his blues woodshedding with mastery. Not only with the Chicago post-war style, but also with the ‘40s and ‘50s Jump and Texas blues, and the Mississippi Delta.
The feel through CD 1 is “down-home”, with wonderful traditional guitar work, and stunning vocals from Michael Ledbetter to boot. There are also catchy instrumentals like “Haymarket Hop” or “Rump Rash”. I was particularly taken by track 8, the delightful ”Lost and Found” (Over 6 minutes long and filled with passionate vocals by Ledbetter, the inspired vintage fretwork by Moss, and the passion of the rest of the band). Moss also shows his great harp playing skills on his song (and title track) “From the Root to the Fruit” (track 4). More harp playing from him on the album would have been welcomed! (Note: In a recent phone conversation, Moss told me that he was not confident as a harp player, and that he only knew a few licks here and there to get through one song. If that could reassure him, Junior Wells often said the same to me - and in interviews - about his own playing!)
Jason Ricci appears as a guest on a Moss’s original – a Jimmy Reed-inspired tune - “The Woman I Love” (Track 12). Ricci delivers wonderful harp work on it. His contribution is stellar, and is delivered from one of the world’s best harmonica players. “If Jason had been in town longer I would have gladly added him on more cuts, like “Walk Away” (CD 1, track 6)” Moss said, “but regretfully it did not happen. We worked on this CD in pieces … I produced an album for him in my studio, with my rhythm section, keyboard player, and myself on guitar. I have the masters at home. Jason is now looking for a record label to put it on. A great recording!” (personal communication, 04-26-15)
While to this day he insists in interviews that at the core he is nothing but a blues player, Moss is inspired by Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Traffic, the Rolling Stones, and especially Fleetwood Mac, when Peter Green was leading it on guitar. It was in fact the 4 LPs box set “Fleetwood Mac’s Live at the Boston Tea Party” - recorded over a 3 night period between February 5th to February 7th 1970, and reprinted in parts or in full under a variety of titles such as “Live in Boston: Re-mastered”, for example, that put a stamp on his musical vision. He described CD 2 (FRUITS) as an example of what Peter Green and Fleetwood Mac used to do: explore new musical themes, free-form jamming, sometimes on one riff, and pushing music away from the beaten path.
In a recent interview for the Herald-Palladium (March 24th, 2016, St. Joseph-Benton Harbor, MI), Moss explains that after hearing Fleetwood Mac’s 1970 live concert he said to himself: “That’s what I want my band to sound like. They go from very traditional stuff to very psychedelic stuff, but nothing seems out of place. I want my band to be able to go from here to here, and make it so seamless that no one in the audience even is aware of what’s happening. That’s what I think we’ve done with our new album and it’s what we do in our live show.” He added this: “I want to show that there is no disconnect between blues music and the popular music that came after. It can work together, as it all derives from blues music. I hope I have shown that with From the Root to the Fruit (personal communication).
CD 2: FRUITS
And this is exactly what is happening on CD 2. Moss and his band display a wide range of musical variety on the 13 tracks; all with a late ‘60s feel, with 9 originals penned by Moss (as mentioned earlier, he also arranged “Serves Me Right”), and 4 by Ledbetter. The CD is a clinic of guitar playing styles. The listener cannot be but impressed by how versatile and adaptable the Nick Moss Band is. It is hard to believe that it is the same band performing on CD 1 as on CD 2!
While you may describe CD 2 as looser and more experimental than CD 1, the band remains rehearsed and tight. The support cast of drummer Patrick Seals, bass player Nick Fane, and keyboardist Taylor Streiff blend harmoniously together. Along with Ledbetter’s rhythm guitar, they create a wonderful symbiotic ensemble. Los Lobos’ guitarist David Kent Hidalgo’s appearance on “Free Will” (Junior Wells’ “Two-Headed Woman” reworked lyrically) adds quite a cachet to this project.
The musical styles on CD 2 vary from Funk (e.g., the wonderful “Jupiter Florida”); Soul/R & B ballad (Ledbetter’s moving vocals on “Breath Easy”); Jimi Hendrix inspired eerie and ghostly playing on “Serves Me Right”; classic rocking tunes like “Breakdown” or “Grateful”, to a wonderful B-3 driven Jazz Fusion “Ta Ta for Tay Tay” or “Free Will” (the latter with a Santana-esque Latin Jazz feel). And more! The sky is the limit with the Nick Moss Band.
Overall, From the Root to the Fruit is a job superbly done. The 27 tracks are fresh, exciting and original. As their website states, the Nick Moss Band’s music is “distinct, honest, and intense — a blend of traditional blues and progressive, jam-oriented blues rock.” And that is exactly what transpires here. While the Nick Moss Band has an identity and sound of its own, they bring us within familiar and beloved musical contexts, some older, some more contemporary.
This is Moss’s 12th release, and second double-album release, if you do not count the live recordings at Chan’s that were released 3 years apart: Live at Chan’s, Vol.1 (2006), and Live at Chan’s, Combo Platter No. 2 (2009) both also on the Blue Bella label.
The NMB has been nominated by the Handy Awards and Blues Music Awards committees in Memphis about 17 times! By next voting cycle, I trust it will be an 18th nomination, only this time with the band emerging as winners.
The Nick Moss Band’s From The Root to The Fruit is a wonderful musical excursion.
5 stars *****
For info or to buy the CD:
May 20: Nick Moss
Band CD Party w/ Guy King at
May 20: Nick Moss Band CD Party w/ Guy King at SPACE