Last fall, we gave a little preview of Chicago guitarist Nick Moss‘ latest project Time Ain’t Free when we told you about a Kickstarter campaign aimed at helping to defray the costs of the album. That campaign never did see Moss reach his desired goal, but a follow-up campaign on fellow crowdfunding site indiegogo helped Moss raise more than $11,500 towards the project, the time for which has finally arrived with the album’s release today on Moss’ Blue Bella Records.
Already Moss’ tenth album, Time Ain’t Free is everything you’ve come to expect from Moss – including the usual deep grooves, rugged vocals, and top-notch guitar work – plus a good deal more, featuring Michael Ledbetter on vocals and second guitar for the first time. A descendant of the great folk-bluesman Huddie Ledbetter – better known as Lead Belly, Ledbetter is to Moss what Noah Hunt is to Kenny Wayne Shepherd, helping to lift an immensely talented guitar-driven band to a whole ‘nother level of greatness through Ledbetter’s smooth, soulful vocals and R&B sounds.
And that’s precisely how the album evolves: the first two tracks are classic Moss-style numbers, opening on the ambling country-tinged blues of “She Wants It” with its gritty guitar and some fine female backing vocals that we’re fortunate to hear several more times throughout the record, before picking up the pace with the hushed vocals of the smoky, shuffling “Was I Ever Heard”. From there, Moss turns the mic over to Ledbetter, who proceeds to light things up for a few with his smooth, Robert Cray-style vocals on songs that include a greasy “Light It Up” and the flowing R&B grooves of “Fare Thee Well”.
You’ll be hard-pressed to find contemporary songs elsewhere near as soulful as the latter, or for that matter, such later Ledbetter-sung tracks as the deeply impassioned, Muscle Shoals sound of “I Want the World to Know” and his Steve Winwood-like take on The Faces’ “Bad ‘n Ruin” that has the band firing on all cylinders before slowing to a crawl in concert with Ledbetter’s repeated refrain of “so tired” at the song’s conclusion – eventually yielding entirely to Bryan Rogers’ solitary keyboards.
But it’s not just the Ledbetter vocal tracks that ooze with feeling: “EZ Bree Zee” is exactly what its title claims, combining Moss’ quiet vocals with some sentimental keyboards, smooth background vocals, and such soothing lyrics as “Just a carefree blowing breeze, never fails to bring me peace/ When the heavy weighs on my mind, wanna’ make me leave it all behind”, as Moss’ guitar plays right into the soulfulness.
On the heavier side, the title track is a biting rocker complete with cowbell and cross-channel guitar action, followed by a chugging, trancelike “Been Gone So Long”, both featuring Moss back on vocals. That’s also the case for the pointed, driving jam “No Reason” and a brisk rocking cover of Son House’s “Death Letter Blues” that nearly passes for a different song altogether, while the funky R&B/dance number “Tell You Somethin’ ‘BoutYourself” and island-flavored ballad “Walkin’ on a Ledge” are two more featuring Ledbetter on mic before the album closes on the groovy instrumental “(Big Mike’s) Sweet Potato Pie”, another great reminder of all that this band is capable, even without the terrific vocals.
If you missed the opportunities to get in on this project last fall (and earn some pretty neat backer premiums in the process), then you’re surely going to want, make that need, to be checking out Time Ain’t Free in its finished product. And you better believe that it’s worth every penny.