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Elmore Magazine Review of “The High Cost of Low Living”

Updated: Apr 7, 2018

We often throw around terms like “he’s a monster” when describing certain musicians. I can recall seeing Nick Moss once where he played a guitar in one hand and his bass in another, the instruments looking like mere toys in his hands. In his case “monster” seemed appropriate in more ways than one.

Moss, of course, has been wielding various axes for over thirty years now, with Jimmy Dawkins’ band, with Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, Pinetop Perkins, Jimmy Rogers and other Chicago greats; and leading his own bands into classic blues and, over the past decade, blues rock and jam band too. Moss has garnered an amazing 21 BMA nominations over the course of his solo career. And, he spends considerable time mentoring young blues artists, perhaps as way of returning the favors he received when developing his own sound. Now that Moss has retreated to the classic Chicago blues sound that he grew up with and loves, he’s finally made it to the Alligator label.

Now, digging in with a re-commitment to his roots and adding one of the world’s widely acclaimed harmonicists, Dennis Gruenling, to his band, Moss targeted Alligator for this record. And, while there are many fine producers in Chicago, Moss turned to the man most traditionalists seek out these days, Kid Andersen, guitarist with Rick Estrin & the Nightcats, and owner of Greaseland Studios in San Jose. Moss says, “I loved working with Kid in the studio. He knows the traditional style and slant on this music and understands were we want to go with it. We weren’t looking to recreate old sounds. We want to sound like a real band, playing this music now. Very few people know enough to be able to push those boundaries like Kid.”

The most striking element is the interplay between Gruenling’s harp and Moss’s guitar. It brings you back to the bands of Little Walter and Muddy Waters but, as Moss pointed out, their sound is more contemporary. Moss has eight originals and Gruenling two among the bakers dozen. Andersen and guest keyboardist Jim Pugh play in a few spots but it’s the NMB (Nick Moss Band) mostly behind this dynamic blast of blues.

Right away Moss’ fretwork collides wonderfully with Gruenling’s harp in “Crazy Mixed Up Baby.” Gruenling is also a master at jump blues and that influence comes through directly in “Get Right Before You Get Left,” and “Count on Me,” the two trading licks and leads as if they’d been together for decades. They handle the call and response technique as well as it can be executed. You’ll hear the Elmore James inspired slide in the title track. They do yield also to the talents of keyboardist Taylor Streiff on Otis Spann’s “Get Your Hands Out of My Pockets” and the wonderful tribute to the late Barrelhouse Chuck in “He Walked With Giants.”

Be assured that the live show will more than measure up to the energetic noise they create here. The NMB feeds off audience excitement, Moss is a powerhouse and Gruenling is a bona fide showman.

—Jim Hynes

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