Modern Chicago bluesman Nick Moss and his rockin' band The Flip Tops may seem like they exploded onto the contemporary blues scene at the turn of the century, but the truth is that they had, collectively, decades of blueswork beneath their belts before coming together. Singer, songwriter, and incendiary guitarist Nick Moss made his bones playing behind legends like Jimmy Dawkins, Jimmy Rogers, and Willie Smith's Legendary Blues Band, while the Flip Tops, including multi-instrumentalists Gerry Hundt and Willie Oshawny, have similarly impressive pedigrees.
The first Live At Chan's, released in 2006 on Nick and Kate Moss' Blue Bella Records, cemented the band's reputation with the blues community after a handful of well-received studio efforts. A red-hot and scorching live set, the album earned Moss and the band a pair of deserved Blues Music Award nominations, and showed newcomers what they were missing if they weren't attending a Nick Moss and the Flip Tops show in person. With Live At Chan's - Combo Platter No. 2, Moss and crew try and succeed at catching lightning in a bottle for the second time, returning to the scene of the crime to lay down another live performance on tape.
Nick Moss & the Flip Tops' Live At Chan's - Combo Platter No. 2
The set kicks off with the rambunctious instrumental "Spare Ribs & Chopsticks," laying the groundwork and letting the listener know that this a blues band with plenty of heart and soul. With Moss' imaginative fretwork soaring above a solid strutting rhythm, Willie Oshawny's inspired piano-pounding serves as a stylistic counterpoint and adds an undeniable energy to the proceeding.
The Moss original, "Try To Treat You Right," is a swaggering, old-school Chicago blues stomp with one foot in 1950s West Side and the other in today's amped-up blues sound. Moss' vocals are soulful and to the point, never embellishing but instead delivering the lyrics with force, while Oshawny's keyboard work brings up the ghost of Otis Spann. Gerry Hundt, a talented solo performer in his own right, smacks out some tasty riffs on his mouth harp, while the bossman's guitar swings, dances, and roars through the solos with breathtaking efficiency.
Hundt takes the microphone for the throwback boogie-woogie dancefloor boomer "Whiskey Makes Me Mean," which he recorded on his 2007 album Since Way Back. With Nick holding down the bottom line with some fiery harpwork, Hundt rocks the mandolin, which lends a curious country blues vibe to the engaging up-tempo rocker. Another Moss original, "Lonesome Bedroom Blues," exhibits a fusion of Jimmy Rogers-styled guitar elegance with a bit of reckless rockabilly fretwork, laid atop a foundation of Hundt's scowling harp and a slow-burning rhythm. The result is a performance so deliberately dark, smoldering, and downright funky that you'd swear you're sitting in the club hearing it for the first time.
The raucous instrumental "Fill 'Er Up," from Play It 'Til Tomorrow, the 2007 album from Moss and the Flip Tops, serves as an excellent showcase for the various instrumentalists' skills. Hundt rides his harmonica like Little Walter jukin' his way to the top o' the charts, Moss' guitarwork brings a nicely-chiming tone and resonance to the song, and Bob Carter's drumming offers a nice walking rhythm with plenty of breathless brush work. The missus, Kate Moss brings a fine, subtle bassline to support the rhythm, and Oshawny's piano lends an authentic 1950s Chicago feel to the performance.
Chicago Blues Royalty Lurrie Bell
The son of legendary harpist Carey Bell, and a growing legend in his own right, blues guitarist Lurrie Bell dropped by Chan's to lend his dusky voice and bone-breaking fretwork to a number of songs. The first is a magnificent cover of Tampa Red's "Don't You Like To Me," an early Chicago blues standard that is afforded Bell's rich vocals and expressive six-string playing. Bell, Moss, and the Flip Tops fan the flame with an inspired reading of the R&B gem "Five Long Years." Bell's jazzy notes intro the song, leading into his best bluesy shout-and-moan vocals. With Oshawny's keys providing a tearful backdrop, Moss and Bell swap mournful licks above a steady, deliberate rhythm.
Willie Dixon's Chicago blues standard "I'm Ready" is provided a rich, full band sound behind Bell's playful vocals and sharp bits of stinging six-string while the set-closing "I Wanna Know" is a crowd-pleasing, floor-shaking, rafter-rattling seven-minute-plus houserocker that certainly had the woks hopping back in the Chan's kitchen. Moss and Bell trade off with flamethrowing solos that threaten to set off the building's sprinklers, while the band keeps up the fast-n-furious pace with white-hot blasts of piano, drums, and bass.
The Reverend's Bottom Line
Nick Moss and the Flip Tops are the real deal, a road-weary blues band seasoned by hundreds of shows and enthusiastic audiences. Live At Chan's - Combo Platter No. 2 is a spot-on document of the band's loud-and-proud live sound, an ear-pleasing collection of performances that, instead of being dominated by guitar - as with a lot of similar bands today - rather provides listeners with a rich thrill-ride of instrumentation that lends plenty of stage time to harp, piano, bass, and drums.
A true full band effort that spotlight's each individual musician's considerable talents, Live At Chan's - Combo Platter No. 2 should motivate any modern blues fan to buy a ticket to the next Moss and the Flip Tops show that comes anywhere within a hundred miles of home. (Blue Bella Records, released April 21, 2009)