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Music Review: Nick Moss – Privileged

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I've been wondering for months if I would actually pen a review for Nick Moss' eighth album, Privileged, because I wasn't sure if writing liner notes for the album would somehow disqualify me as an honest reviewer of the record. I went back and forth with the ethical considerations. I talked myself in and out of writing this review repeatedly and I'll tell you I had some interesting conversations in my head.

What is a reviewer or critic? What is their job? What does objectivity mean in this business and how valuable is it? We could spend days considering those questions, but wouldn't we all rather talk about Privileged?

If I were to sum-up all those questions and answer them in one word, it would be honesty. I wasn't paid to say anything about the record, I volunteered and it's not like this is my first dance at the Nick Moss musical rodeo. I've been writing about his music for more than three years now. I own all his records. I've reviewed Live at Chan's and Live at Chan's 2 as well as Play it 'Til Tomorrow. I've seen he and the Flip Tops in concert. I've interviewed him. I'm about as neutral on Nick Moss as I am Bruce Springsteen, Radiohead, Buddy Guy, are any dozen other artists in my CD collection and on my iPod. There are two kinds of music – good and bad – and I only concern myself with the good. I don't spend a lot of time listening to music I don't like and even less writing about it. Life is finite; my life's playlist is, too.

I didn't say anything in those liner notes I didn't believe with my ears and heart. I didn't say anything in them I don't feel with my ears and heart four months later. I also didn't say everything I have to say about Privileged. The liner notes focus largely on Moss' pursuit of a musical direction beyond the Chicago blues sound of his past records and yes, to assure listeners this pursuit is successful. That change in direction is something I'll reference in the words that follow but I want to drill deeper. I want to express what it is about this record that has set me ablaze. Musical direction alone doesn't do that. Welcome to the fire.

Privileged opens with the baptism of fire that is "Born Leader." It's an ideal choice to open the album as it establishes a sonic and thematic tone that will resurface. It is a forceful opening salvo that hits like a clenched fist. Everything about it is ferocious and that's not an accident. Moss is serving notice, lyrically and musically. "Born Leader" is a statement of purpose.

He isn't changing his sound so much as he is expanding it. The Chicago blues sound at the core of his career even before forming The Flip Tops can still be felt but the confines of that idiom are quickly cast aside. The searing squall and grit of Moss's lead guitar feel familiar but it's now surrounded by a sleek, slinky rhythm and dirty, funky clavinet and organ fermenting just below the surface. "Born Leader" plays like a cagey middleweight fighter, quick on its feet but with devastating knockout power.

No names are mentioned nor party affiliations declared but he's clearly had it with the politics of the empty suit willing to say anything to get ahead. It's a message both timely and timeless. The sad truth is songs of war and crooked politicians never really go out of style. If history has taught us anything it is that there will always be another. So what's an artist to do? What's a man to do? You speak out and ring the bell of discontent. You remind the "Born Leader" they govern only with the consent of the governed and hold their feet to the fire by unmasking them in a torrid inferno of guitar and contempt.

About Josh Hathaway

  • Mat Brewster

    Sometimes I think its ok to take off the critic coat and put on the cheerleader skirt. Nice job Josh.

  • Josh Hathaway

    Thanks, Sir Brewster. I agree. Cheerleading has to be at least part of what I do or it’s just not worth doing. If I can’t get excited about the music I hear from time to time, I should stop writing about it. I don’t get excited about every CD I write about and I don’t get this excited about all the ones that do pique my interest but I’d rather read cheerleading than passionless writing. I’ll take the badge of cheerleader for this album and wear it proudly. Thanks for commenting, sir.

  • Mark Saleski

    nice review josh. yeah, the function of a critic, we could talk about that for years.

    this is definitely on my list.

  • Josh Hathaway

    Mark, you cannot acquire this CD fast enough. It’s tough for me to call it his best because that feels dismissive to the great traditional output of these past few records but I really love what he’s done here and have listened to it regularly since first hearing it at the end of last year.

  • Aaron McMullan

    Sir Josh, this was absoloutely beautiful. And that alone is reason enough to say to hell with it, I’ll write about this record if I want to, for these are the kinds of holy wonders and terrors it stirs in the heart and the skull, and there’s always room in the world for someone who wants to rhapsodise in such a key. Particulary when the resultant tune is as gorgeous as the one you’ve gone ahead and tootled regarding this record. Which, by the by, you have totally sold.