Thursday, November 08, 2012

Dennis Gruenling with Doug Deming Is Rockin' All Day

I first heard of harmonica wizard Dennis Gruenling through an excellent Little Walter tribute album he put together a few years ago as well as a remarkable performance he gave at a Baltimore Blues Society event. He reminded me of the late Paul DeLay with harmonica playing rooted in the modern blues masters like Little Walter and George ‘Harmonica’ Smith, but one whose ears would incorporate other progressive sounds (such as saxophonists like Lester Young and Illinois Jacquet). He is a progressive virtuoso whose playing still is rooted in Chicago and jump blues.

He has a new release on Backbender Records, part of the VizzTone Group, Rockin’ All Day, where he is supported by Doug Deming and the Jewel Tones. This band is comprised of guitarist-vocalist Deming; bassists Andrew Gohman or Scot Hornick; and drummers Devin Neel or Tom Papadatos with Dave Gross playing piano on one selection. Material includes some originals (notably instrumentals) and covers of blues and jump numbers originally associated with Jimmy McCracklin, Louis Jordan, Shakey Jake and Muddy Waters.

Deming is an affable vocalist who handles all but one of the vocals. While not a deep blues singer, his relaxed singing is easy to listen. Gruenling and he cover vintage numbers like the Jimmy McCracklin title track, Louis Jordan on Saturday Night Fish Fry, Amos Milburn on One Scotch, One Bourbon One Beer, and Wyonnie Harris’ Bloodshot Eyes. His vocal also does justice on the rocking cover of Muddy Waters’ She’s So Pretty. The Jewel Tones provide a swinging backing behind his vocals while Gruenling’s provides some spectacular and imaginative playing with his full-tone. Deming’s fiery guitar gets showcased as well as on She’s So Pretty.

Carl Perkins’ You Can Do No Wrong, is a rockabilly flavored performance where Gruenling lays down a saxophone sounding. Then there are several strong instrumentals like the groover, The Rev, that starts off like a harp-drum rendition of Tequila, before Gruenling takes off while Deming chords behind the dazzling harmonica. In contrast, 2:22 AM, is a slow instrumental in the vein of Little Walter’s Sad Hours. Gruenling’s fat tone and swooping lines convey a late night mood aided by Deming’s simple accompaniment. Gruenling takes the vocal on Melvin Smith’s It Went Down Easy, with harp overdubbed. Deming stands out with crisp, single note lines here. Listening to this one hopes that  Gruenling will showcase his vocals more.

Dennis Gruenling is among the most accomplished as well as interesting harmonica players around ably backed by Deming and the Jewel Tones. With the first-rate performances here, Rockin’ All Day makes for lively listening, and will be quite popular with dancers.

I was provided a review copy from VizzTone. Here is Dennis Gruenling with Doug Deming performing The Rev.

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