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Nick Moss

SADIE MAE • Nick Moss & The Fliptops

Before I could afford to buy records, my local library fortunately had a pretty good collection. One of its major revelations was a Vanguard series of blues anthologies titled, Chicago: The Blues Today Vols. 1-3, that offered raw roots served up by Junior Wells with Buddy Guy, James Cotton, Otises Rush and Spann, recorded as they must have sounded in the Southside clubs of the Windy City in the 60s. These discs revealed a world of mystery, sex, and salvation far removed from my white-bread suburban experience. It was not just the rough-hewn voices and searing guitar licks that entered my being, it was the way they were recorded. The producers captured the exotic essence of the very ghetto air that surrounded the performances.

When I write disparagingly of blues revival artists, it is not because they are re-hashing rather than re-conceiving a cherished art form. It is because so often, regardless of the quality of the music itself, new blues records tent to be sonically sterile. It seems that if you are trying to carry on a tradition, you should get it right--and that is where Nick Moss comes in.

Sadie Mae is the work of a young guitarist who has absorbed the blues--not note by note in his bedroom somewhere, but on the road with old masters from Chicago. His solos sound like he is speaking to us, not showing us what he has learned. And for a change, the music has been recorded in a way that reminds me why the blues changed my life. It is a tribute to Moss's talents as a producer that the band sounds as if it is playing together in a funky live room--whether or not it actually was. (As legendary producer Jerry Wexler once said, "...the whole thing about recording is the attempt at verisimilitude--not truth, but the appearance of truth.")

And oh yeah, the kid can play. Chops are there when he needs them, but better yet he has mastered the twin essential ingredients of the form: time and space. His guitar sits right in the pocket regardless of how intense he gets--and he does get intense. On the title shuffle, Moss's axe cuts a swathe a mile wide through the rhythm section with ear-piercing distortion. Switching tones to an emotive honk for the swinging Freddy King-style stomp "Ridin' At The Ranch," he never lets his technique get in the way, content to leave plenty of holes for his bandmates to fill.

And what mates they are. Gerry Hundt serves admirable double duty on idiomatically perfect and wildly expressive harmonica and rhythm guitar, while Bob Welsh summons up the ghost of Otis Spann on piano. Drummer Victor Spann and bassist David Wood provide the brilliant eccentricities of rhythm found in the early work of Fred Below and Willie Dixon. With their leader they know the Chicago trick of making everything fit together perfectly though it seems as if everyone is playing at once.

Most of the tunes are Moss originals, though they sound like blues classics. This makes him a triple threat, rare among the recent crop of revivalists in that he can also really sing--in a voice that, at its best, recalls a young Junior Wells.

The Chicagoan claims that he is not doing anything new, and this is true. But by accurately capturing not just the letter but also the spirit and the sound of the Chicago blues, he has made them worth following into the future.
• Michael Ross

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