Album Reviews

Dennis Gruenling

Ready Or Not

Artist:     Dennis Gruenling

Album:     Ready Or Not

Label:     Vizztone

Release Date:     07/22/2016


Dennis Gruenling has long been known as one of those “go to” harp players you call on for a session or to sit on for a live gig. This finds him in the bandleader role, doing the vocals for the first time in his already substantial recording career. Not only that, he wrote all of the thirteen songs in a throw-back style. Here’s Gruenling’s quick take on the album directly from his website: “this time, not only is it all originals rooted in the 1950’s Rhythm & Blues/early Rock & Roll vein, but I’m also handling all the vocals – SAY WHAT?!? That’s right, you heard me (or at least, you will now, lol!) While working on these tracks, aside from hearing from countless friends and fans that I should sing for the past couple decades, I was making the demos and working out the tunes and gave it a go… and I just stuck with it. If you dig what I’ve been doing for the past number of years with Doug Deming (who is of course on this disc) and my Jump Time records, you will likely dig this mix of 50’s styled blues & roots music… with influences ranging from 1950’s rock & roll and rhythm & blues artists such as John Lee Hooker, Fats Domino, Louis Jordan, Chuck Berry and more.”

Okay, he didn’t get completely out of his comfort zone as he is backed by the band he tours with, Doug Deming and the Jewel Tones for most of the tracks. On others, stellar keyboardist Dave Keyes and members of Gruenling’s Jump Time Band– like guitarist Dave Gross and tenor saxophonist Doug Sasfai– add their talents. The album was recorded in Brooklyn, NY during a blizzard with producer Steve Conte (New York Dolls, Willy DeVille) at the controls.

Gruenling brings a swinging style, filled with plenty of notes and chromatics, when playing his trademarked Badass Harmonica. That style is vitally present throughout the record, which relentlessly boogies, jumps and swings. Gruenling’s voice, while not especially distinctive, is witty, has flair in the right places and is well suited to the material. “If You Wanna Rock” really conjures up those early days of rock n’ roll, while “Ready to Burn” sounds menacing. Gruenling sounds like he’s playing horn charts on “Think Twice,” and “Simmer Down” perhaps encapsulates in four minutes why Gruenling is often hailed by his peers as one  of the world’s best harmonica players.  Now we know, he has even more skills.

-Jim Hynes

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