They say you can’t have it all, but fans of the Nick Moss Band will be especially delighted with this double-disc set (Blue Bella Records) of new music that nicely embodies the Chicago guitarist’s musical career, starting with a soul- and blues-filled disc one (Roots) before exploring a diverse array of sounds on the second disc (Fruits), the overall title (From the Root to the Fruit) of which of course refers to a famous and frequently cited quote from Chicago bluesman and songwriter/producer Willie Dixon that “The blues are the roots and the other musics are the fruits”.
Trading off on vocals with the great Michael Ledbetter (a descendant of Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter) throughout, Moss leads the band through a solid, nearly 30-song collection of largely shuffling originals, with main highlights including the soulful, “Killing Floor”-like “Make Way For Me”; a Charlie Musselwhite-ish title track that features Moss on vocals, guitar and harmonica; the soul-drenched slow blues of “Lost and Found”; a John Lee Hooker-style “The Woman I Love” that includes some Taj Mahal-like licks on harmonica from Jason Ricci; an effects-filled, truly cosmic performance of “Serves Me Right (Space Jam)”, and the southern-rocking “Grateful” with its Lynyrd Skynyrd-like riffs and backing vocals from Ledbetter as well as Tina Crawley and Lara Jenkins.
But that really is just the tip of the iceberg here, with the discs also offering a handful of pretty smoking instrumentals, including the slinky, grooving “Haymarket Hop” with its horns (courtesy of “Sax Gordon” Beadle) and blistering guitar; a funky, Booker T-ish “Rump Rash”, and the closing, quiet rock anthem “Heavy Water”, as well as studio versions of several songs previewed on the band’s previous album Live and Luscious, including the soulful grooves of “I Dig” and a wah-filled “Catch Me I’m Falling” (which we described in our earlier review as “sort of a modern-day equivalent of the kind of stuff Sam & Dave used to do”), the rock-steady “Breakdown” and “Stand By”, and a soulful, swaying “Shade Tree” that’s even more beautiful and stirring, if you can believe it, than on the live album, with some impressive playing from Taylor Streiff on keyboards as well as the addition of female backing vocals.
It probably will come as no surprise to readers of this blog that, of the two discs, we tend to prefer the first (Roots), which also includes nice covers of songs from both Junior Wells and Elmore James, with a soulful, funky take on “Love Me” and the slow, keys-laced blues of “Long Tall Woman”, respectively. In addition, there’s the soulful shuffling opener “Before the Night is Through”, a “Dead Man’s Hand” that features both an Elvis-y voice and some stinging guitar from Moss to accompany its thick horns, and the soft, creeping jazz ballad “Symone”, with the band even starting an early transition to the Fruits portion of the program with the psychedelic licks of “Walk Away” just before closing out the disc on the terrific shuffling instrumental “Cold Sore”.
That said, there’s plenty more to like on disc two, with songs like the groovy, cowbell-accented “Jupiter Florida”, the funky, keys-soaked instrumental “Ta Ta for Tay Tay”, and a spacey, Moss-sung “Free Will” that includes echoing background vocals from Ledbetter and several Santana-like solos – first from Moss and then from Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo – all helping to build to the disc’s climactic conclusion, made up of the aforementioned “Grateful”, “Shade Tree”, “Stand By”, and “Heavy Water” as well as the scorching riffs of a hard-driving, soul-drenched “Stuck” and the greasy, West Coast grooves of “Stand Up”, a Crosby, Stills & Nash-style call-to-action with Peter Frampton-like guitar.
Moss’ playing is of course superb, while Ledbetter – who also contributes quite a bit on guitar – is a master of voice, bringing a whole new level of soulfulness to the songs on which he handles lead or backing vocals. Joined by Patrick Seals on drums, Streiff on keyboards, and Nick Fane on bass, these guys amount to one of the very best blues jam bands on the scene today.
Either of these albums would have been impressive enough by itself, but, together, they make for a truly must-have collection that captures the Nick Moss Band at its peak (at least so far) and that ranks among the most diverse and entertaining new releases not just of the past year or two, but of the decade.