Ready Or Not
Harmonica wizard Dennis Gruenling has a new release on VizzTone, "Ready Or Not." Like his previous recording, 2012's "Rockin’ All Day," he is backed by guitarist Doug Deming & the Jewel Tones (bassist Andrew Gohman and drummer Michael Bram). Also, Dave Keyes adds piano to 4 tracks and Doug Sasfai adds saxophone to 4 selections and producer Steve Conte adds acoustic guitar to one selection. The liner notes note that the album was focused on a rock and roll styled record, harking back to the 1950s with artists like Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and Fats Domino. Gruenling wrote all the songs (some in collaboration) and for the first time takes all the vocals and he comes across credibly with his straight-forward delivery, although his vocals are not on the same level as his harmonica playing. The Jewel Tones and the others certainly do their bit to help create the feel and the lyrics have a school hop flavor.
There are many pleasures starting with the opening Little Richard flavored "Knockin' My Knees," that evokes some of the recordings of Kid Thomas (although Gruenling is somewhat straight-laced compared to Kid Thomas frenzied singing). "Simmer Down" is musically related (not lyrically related) to the Roy Montrell classic "(Everytime I Hear) That Mellow Saxophone" and featured some tasty interplay between Gruenling and Deming. The groove on "Little Sugar," suggests some Gary U.S. Bonds recordings with very tasty guitar along with a nice harmonica solo, while on "Ready To Burn," it sounds like he sings through his harp mike, giving his vocal a distorted feel matched the hot harp on this. There are two instrumentals, the blistering, "Rockin' With The Rev," and the moody sounding "Count Chromatic," where his fat tone is marked by Deming's Luther Tucker sounding fills that closes the 13 song recording.
"Ready Or Not" is another highly enjoyable recording that fans of Gruenling and Deming will certainly love, and for those unfamiliar with the two, it is musically a solid introduction to the music.
I received my review copy from VizzTone. This review originally appeared in the September-October 2016 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 368). I made a few minor revisions to the review. Here is a video of Dennis performing Count Chromatic."