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Dennis Gruenling – “Rockin’ All Day”

Backbender /Vizztone Label Group BBR711

13 songs – 50 minutes

Multi-talented Dennis Gruenling is a deceptively simple innovator on harmonica. Like many, if not most of his contemporaries, he admits to drawing inspiration from Little Walter Jacobs and other forbearers. But while most other reed benders walk a familiar path, he’s taken a road less traveled. Not only does he incorporate the stylings of jazzmen Lester Young and Illinois Jacquet into his technique, but he also delivers his work through a modern interpretation of the music he loves best, jump blues. The precursor to R&B and rock-n-roll, jump developed out of big-band jazz in the mid-’40s, driven by a coterie of superstars, including Lionel Hampton, Louis Jordan, Earl Bostic and Arnett Cobb.

A highly respected harmonica instructor who also deals in vintage microphones, Gruenling hosts “Blues & the Beat” on New Jersey’s WFDU-FM. This record swings from the top as he breathes new life into several jump classics gleaned from his extensive record collection, and he provides a few new songs along the way.

He’s backed on most cuts by Florida-based guitarist/vocalist and fellow Vizztone recording artist Doug Deming, his regular touring partner, and Deming’s tight band, the Jewel Tones. Deming shares Gruenling’s love for the art form and stylishly handles all but one of the vocals, as Gruenling lays down a flawless, wide spectrum of blues riffs, ranging from lightning quick runs to mournful moans. He’s equally proficient on diatonic and chromatic, and his use of low-register Hohner Thunderbird harmonicas on several tunes adds to the flavor. The Jewel Tones rhythm section – Andrew Gohman (bass) and Devin Neel (drums) – is spelled by a pair of Gruenling’s former band mates – Scott Hornick and Tom Papadatos – on five of the 13 cuts, and the CD is bolstered by multi-instrumentalist Dave Gross on keyboards for “It Went Down Easy,” on which Gruenling sings lead. A burgeoning superstar in his own right, Gross co-produced the CD’s Garden State recording sessions, while Ed Kinder handled the duties for Florida sessions.

A swinging harmonica solo kicks off the first cut, the Jimmy McCracklin chestnut, “Rockin’ All Day (Reelin’ & Rockin’).” By the time Deming kicks in with the vocals and the band starts singing a response, your fingers will be tapping out the rhythm and you’ll be heading for the dance floor. Gruenling stretches out with a clean, deceptively simple mid-song solo on the next tune, the Shaky Jake Harris stop-time number, “Roll Your Moneymaker.” He and the band provide a nice call-and-response to the vocal. The disc slips into high gear on “The Rev.” It’s a fast-paced Gruenling original, in which his talents on the chromatic are on full display, set off first against rhythmic handclapping and then the band swaying in the background.

Two more classic jump numbers follow – Louis Jordan’s “Saturday Night Fish Fry” and Amos Milburn’s “One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer” – before Gruenling updates Muddy Waters’ “She’s So Pretty” and revs up Carl Perkins’ country hit, “She Can Do No Wrong.” Despite almost two decades in the business, Gruenling makes his debut and holds his own as lead singer on the next tune, “It Went Down Easy,” an obscure rockabilly platter first recorded by Melvin Smith in the mid-’50s. But it’s back to his blues roots on the original “2:22 A.M.” Harmonica purists will recognize the sweet Little Walter-style chops Gruenling uses to follow Deming’s walking guitar lead-in. He backs that tune up with a jump original – “What’s Wrong With Me?” – before a sparkling version of the Wynonie Harris classic, “Bloodshot Eyes.” The Chicago-flavored Deming original “Actin’ Crazy” follows before Gruenling closes the set with the self-penned instrumental “Hotso.”

This warm, relaxed, uptempo party album is sure to be a crowd-pleaser. Play it loud, and keep your dance shoes handy. You’re going to need them.

Reviewer Marty Gunther has lived a blessed life. His first experience with live music came at the feet of the first generation of blues legends at the Newport Folk Festivals in the 1960s. A former member of the Chicago blues community, he’s a professional journalist and blues harmonica player who co-founded the Nucklebusters, one of the hardest working bands in South Florida.

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