Singer-guitarist Dave Gross’ new disc Crawling the Walls on the VizzTone group’s SwingNation Records, should solidify his reputation. Only 24 he shows he has listened and absorbed a lot in this disc that provides a wide palette of sounds ranging from gypsy jazz to storming Chicago blues. He certainly is worthy of some of the praise that Bob Margolin lays on him in the liner notes, especially his marvelous musicianship. His vocals perhaps come off at times as flat and other times a bit over-the-top, but sounds better than his last disc. This aspect of his music should mature along with him. one might expect him to grow as a singer.
The album opens with his remake of an early Bobby Bland recording, It’s My Life Baby, channeling the Clarence Holliman in his work. Its followed by Rock in My Shoe, a piece of rock’n’roll that echoes some mid-fifties’ Specialty rock recordings with a blistering solo. Ike Turner’s Cubano Jump, offers him more chance to showcase his driving guitar. The title track is an original in the vein of twenties and thirties era speakeasy blues with some nice growling trumpet from Jon-Erik Kellso and clarinet by Gerry Niewood, although Mike Bram’s drums are way too prominent.
Inspiration Blues, is a spirited take on T-Bone Walker's recording with Niewood blasting on tenor and Gross sounding strong playing in a Walker-inspired vein. It is followed by his own midnight blues-ballad, You’re Not the One, with Kellso growling before Gross starts off as Pee Wee Crayton reborn before taking the solo in his own direction. Margolin’s point in the liner notes that Gross “always adds a creative trick or twist to classic licks and tones,” is nowhere better illustrated than here. Back to the twenties with Clarence Williams’ Baby Won’t You Please Come Home, with drums replaced by banjo and Scott Robinson on bass sax with Kellso blasting playing with out mute but adding some bluesy smears, followed by Gross, on acoustic guitar, taking a nice solo with tinges of Eddie Lang, before pianist Canal Fowkes takes the lead with some stride before Robinson struts on the bass sax on a nice classic Chicago jazz performance.
Don’t Take Too Long, with Dennis Gruenling on harmonica conjures up the sound of the classic Willie Dixon produced Cobra recordings of Otis Rush, while Find Yourself Another Man, is a pastiche of classic Muddy Waters band, again with Gruenling wailing on harmonica. This performance reminds me of some of Bob Margolin’s recordings in the same vein. Gross, like Margolin is not as convincing vocally. It Was Born in the 20’s, is a stunning acoustic guitar feature with Gross paying tribute to Django Reinhardt (and Matt Munisteri providing crisp rhythm in this delightful small group jazz performance as well taking a nice solo as well) with Kellso’s trumpet and Niewood’s clarinet providing atmospheric support. Gross’ acoustic guitar solo, A Little Love, A Little Kiss, revives an Eddie Lang guitar solo from the twenties, and like he does throughout this recording, honors those who inspired him by not imitating and replicating his influences, but rather extending them and displaying his own musical personality.
While his vocals may not be Dave Gross’ strength, they do not detract from the overall high level of the music that makes Climbing the Walls, a welcome release.
I received my review copy from either a publicist or VizzTone. I wrote this review for Jazz & Blues Report but I do not believe this review ran. Here is Dave performing with Dennis Gruenling on harmonica.