Album Review: The Nick Moss Band — Get Your Back Into It!

Nick Moss has been leading his own bands for years; starting the late ‘90s, he released a string of blues albums with The Flip Tops. By 2010 he billed himself as a solo artist, and explored the heavier, rock side of the blues. These days he’s back in more historically-rooted territory, and beginning with his 2018 release The High Cost of Low Living (his first for Alligator), the guitarist has billed his group as The Nick Moss Band Featuring Dennis Gruenling. A world-class harmonica player, Gruenling is a key to the creative dividends reaped by the current outfit.

In its current configuration, The Nick Moss Band has made a point of having it both ways: they trade in a style deeply enmeshed in high-octane Chicago blues, but rather than recycle classic songs of the genre, they present new and original material that honors and builds upon the form.

On Get Your Back Into It!, the group delivers volume and value. The set is packed with 14 tunes, each of which conjures the spirit of classic Chicago blues of yesteryear. Listeners who don’t know otherwise could easily mistake many of these songs for classics; only the improved sonic clarity marks Get Your Back Into It! as a collection of modern-day recordings.

Moss has a good-timing vocal presence that evokes thoughts of Louis Prima, Roy Brown and other giants. His phrasing on “The Bait in the Snare” – set as it is against the chugging instrumental backing of this five-piece group – is spot-on. The character of vintage Paul Butterfield Blues Band is evoked on the riffing blues of “Aurelie.” The propulsive “Man on the Move” is sure to make the listener move as well.

But Get Your Back Into It! isn’t all good-natured, uptempo blues. The stinging, swaggering and sorrowful “Living in Heartache” explores another side. “It Shocks Me Out” features a spoken-sung vocal and shouted backing vocals that recall Louis Jordan and His Tympani Five. A thrilling instrumental showcase that gives each band member a turn in the spotlight, “Out of the Woods” adds a bit of jazz texture to the proceedings. Of particular note is Taylor Streiff’s organ work, but everyone shines here.

Moss and Gruenling burn brightest on “Your Bark is Worse Than Your Bite”; the rest of the group holds back to give them the spotlight. Gruenling takes full advantage of the space, tearing into an extended solo that will leave the listener gasping for breath.

But Get Your Back Into It! is very much the product of a group. Streiff’s saloon piano is tasty on “Choose Wisely.” “The Solution” is a momentary nod toward modern sounds; its urban character sets it apart from the rest of the record, yet it fits nicely, adding variety. And “Scratch ‘N’ Sniff” ends the record with some catchy, twangy instrumental work. As a sampler of the breadth of The Nick Moss Band’s artistry, Get Your Back Into It! is a triumph.