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Music Review: Nick Moss & The Flip Tops – Live At Chan’s Combo Platter #2

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Promotional material accompanying the latest outing from Nick Moss and his Flip Tops claims “this is how the blues was meant to sound,” and really, that says it best. Returning to the venerable Rhode Island hotspot – his first Live At Chan’s disc won numerous awards – Moss leads his Flip Tops through Combo Platter #2, a scorching set of hard-driving, no-nonsense Chicago blues that virtually defines what a blues band is supposed to sound like.

Moss started out on bass behind Jimmy Dawkins and worked with Muddy Waters alumni Willie ‘Big Eyes’ Smith before switching to guitar and learning from the master of ensemble playing, the late Jimmy Rogers. He’s since emerged as both torchbearer and guiding light, a champion of tradition determined to add to it rather than merely replicate. He also plays some of the toughest, meanest blues guitar around. His Flip Tops – multi-instrumentalist Gerry Hundt (bass, harmonica, and mandolin), Willie Oshawny (piano and farfisa organ), bassist Bob Carter, and part-timer Kate Moss (Nick’s wife, she takes over bass when Hundt switches off) are a seasoned and thoroughly road-tested unit, as tight as any on the curcuit.

Kicking off with “Spare Ribs and Chopsticks,” an instrumental featuring Moss’ lean, snarling guitar, the band proceeds to tear through a set of extended jams that never wear out their welcome – more than half the disc’s ten tunes are over eight minutes in length, but there’s never a shortage of musical ideas. Moss contributes a handful of originals, while Hundt wrote one and shares credit for “Fill ‘Er Up,” a harmonica showcase that gives him an opportunity to stretch out with some exemplary, thick-toned work on the tin sandwich.

And in truth, the first half-or-so of the disc would be worth both the price of admission and consideration for ‘best album’ awards on the strength of the core band’s performance alone. But Moss ups the ante this time around with special guest Lurrie Bell, who joins in on vocals and guitar for the last four tunes here. Bell, son of Chicago harmonica legend Carey Bell, is one of the fiercest guitarists in the blues, his stinging leads seemingly ripped form the fretboard in frenzied anguish. Here he trades licks and leads with Moss through three classics and a closing original, with Eddie Boyd’s “Five Long Years” an exercise in guitar ecstacy that just keeps building in intensity for a full thirteen minutes of breathtaking virtuosity. Bell’s gruff vocals, spare but unequivocally honest, are equally effective.

Moss and friends are unquestionably the real deal, their music posessed of the sweaty urgency and unaffected exuberance; the blues, in short, as they should sound, drenched with heart and soul and played as though lives do indeed depend on it. This one’s as good as it gets!

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