Dennis Gruenling

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Dennis Gruenling

Postby blueswriter » Fri Apr 24, 2009 6:44 pm

Dennis Gruenling
I Just Keep Lovin' Him - A Tribute To Little Walter
Backbender (2008) BBR708

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14 tracks, 56 minutes. Highly recommended. The harmonica, or harp if you prefer, has surely enjoyed a long and storied history with its connection to blues. The fact that it was considered more of a toy than a usable instrument for the longest time isn't hard to imagine considering its small pocket-size frame. Thanks to the highly-successful records of John Lee (Sonny Boy) Williamson in the late 1930s and early '40s, the harp was able to shed its childlike reputation and gain some serious status. More important for blues harmonica, however, was the emergence of Marion Walter Jacobs who began his recording career in Chicago in the late 1940s. Little Walter's first forays onto wax showed a creative harp player whose style was solidly reminiscent of Sonny Boy's, but it was Jacobs' efforts with Muddy Waters starting in 1950 on the Chess label that would really show what a harmonica could offer in the hands of a true innovator. Jacobs staked out his claim as a solo artist in 1952 with his instrumental Juke, and blues hasn't been the same since. His abilities are truly the stuff of legend, and in the last five-and-a-half decades-plus, anyone who has picked up a harp to play blues has owed a serious debt of gratitude to Little Walter.

With that being said, full album tributes to Jacobs have been very few and far between, although covers of his individual songs have been cropping up every year since the late 1960s. I Just Keep Lovin' Him - A Tribute To Little Walter could easily be the best all-around blues harmonica record in well over a decade. Certainly there have been other assemblies similar to this, but this focused? Nope. Steve Guyger, Rick Estrin and Kim Wilson have all nodded to Jacobs numerous times over the course of their careers, as has the lesser-known Dennis Gruenling, but this recording is centered solely on Walter's genius from beginning to end and it's a remarkable offering. Estrin (of Little Charlie & The Nightcats fame) delivers the vocals on Too Young To Know and Temperature, while Guyger hands in three fine efforts with My Little Machine, Lovin' Man and You're Sweet. Wilson hits his stride on I Got To Go and As Long As I Have You, sounding like his usual rocking self, and all three put forth some thick and greasy harp throughout. However, it's Gruenling's massively-toned harmonica that will have many listeners shaking their heads and running for their Little Walter records. He matches Walter's brilliance and sounds like an extension of the master without leaning on note-for-note recreations of these lesser-known recordings from Jacobs' extensive catalog. Blowing amplified or acoustic, he gets the deep, rich and powerful sound many strive for and miss. It's obvious he's studied Jacobs in-depth when you hear the warbling and fluttering effects he manages effortlessly. The band itself is a gathering of superior talent with Dave Gross, Bill Hunt, Bob Welsh and Rusty Zinn swapping guitar chores, while Steve Wolf, Scot Hornick and Kedar Roy tackle bass duties. The shuffling backbeats are handled by Mike Bram and Marty Dodson and Gina Fox steps in for three solid vocals on Up The Line, If You Were Mine and One Of These Mornings. Blues recordings this potent don't come along all that often, and that's a good thing; we learn not to take them for granted when they pop up on the radar. If Dennis Gruenling isn't on your screen yet, he should be, and this is certainly the best place to start.

Dennis Gruenling

© 2009 by Craig Ruskey
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Re: Dennis Gruenling

Postby jeffl » Fri Apr 24, 2009 7:08 pm

Thanks for the headsup and the customary fine write-up B-Dub!
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Re: Dennis Gruenling

Postby blueswriter » Fri Apr 24, 2009 7:14 pm

jeffl wrote:Thanks for the headsup and the customary fine write-up B-Dub!


B-Dub thanks ya, Jeff. :D
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