Doug Deming & The Jewel Tones featuring Dennis Gruenling
What’s It Gonna Take
VizzTone Label Group
BluesWax Rating: 8.5 out of 10
A Pretty Girl, A Cadillac, and some Doug Deming
There are a lot of musicians trying to recast the blues tradition into a more modern sound, mixing a variety of influences in an effort to put together a combination that will hopefully capture the attention of the listening audience. Other musicians opt to dig deeper into the tried and true sounds that have sustained blues music for the last century. It is rare to find a musician that has managed to tap into the roots with a distinctive and invigorating approach.
Guitarist Doug Deming has been honing his skills for years backing some outstanding harp players like swamp blues legend Lazy Lester, Gary Primich, Greg “Fingers” Taylor, and Kim Wilson of the Fabulous Thunderbirds. After several decades of working in his hometown Detroit market, Deming made a move to Florida to pursue his love of fishing, as well as to explore the the opportunities offered by the state’s thriving music scene. It took awhile to put together a new version of the Jewel Tones, but once Andrew Gohman on upright and Fender bass and drummer Devin Neel were in place, Deming had a rhythm section just as capable at swinging the blues as they are at playing hard-core shuffle. Then Deming enlisted the help of his friend Dennis Gruenling, who happens to be a spell-binding harp player, to add additional layers of flavor to the mix.
The program of eight originals and three covers offers a variety of styles that often hark back to a time when there wasn’t much of a distinction between blues and R&B music. You can hear that on “Lucky Charm,” a tight shuffle with Gruenling using his chromatic harp to play horn-like lines behind Deming’s emotive tenor voice. Another example is the outstanding version of Jon Hendricks‘ “I Want You To Be My Baby,” written for the King of R&B, Louis Jordan. Gruenling’s bright harp accents sound like a a small horn section. Deming lays down a vocal at breakneck speed over the swinging beat from Neel that leads to an intricate harp solo. After a brief exchange with Gruenling, Deming kicks things into overdrive with a fiery display of his guitar skills. This barnburner is a sure bet to fill the dance floor at the band’s live shows.
Things lighten up on Buddy Johnson‘s “A Pretty Girl (A Cadillac and Some Money)” highlighted by a winsome group vocal on the chorus. Gruenling uses a specially-tuned A-flat harp to generate low, foghorn tones before switching to a chromatic harp for his solo exchange with Deming, which he finishes off with a final flurry on a diatonic harmonica. The title cut is straight-ahead rocker that will be another favorite with the dancers. The leader’s earnest vocal is answered by some tantalizing upper-register harp licks. Then Deming closes things out with a taut guitar solo that would sound right at home in a Texas roadhouse. The band goes for a country feel with a two-beat rhythm on “One Good Reason,” with Gohman expertly slapping his upright bass to generate a powerful bottom end.
On his dark, brooding original “Think Hard” – done in the classic Chicago electric style – Deming turns the solo space over to Gruenling who delivers a mesmerizing solo full of mournful cries. It’s a performance that seems to be calling on the spirit of Howlin’ Wolf. Another original, “An Eye For a Eye” exudes an unsettling primal energy that threatens to engulf you until Gruenling’s harp calls to you out of the darkness, offering a chance at redemption. Anthony Smith subs for Gruenling on “No Big Thrill,” riding the shuffle beat with some tasty Jimmy Reed-style blowing.
When you listen to Deming play guitar, you might hear a bit of Johnny “Guitar” Watson one minute or a touch of T-Bone Walker the next. But mostly you will hear a truly fearless guitarist who understands the meaning of restraint and the value of space in a musical arrangement. On “Poison Ivy” Deming easily taps into the tongue-in-cheek humor of Willie Mabon‘s lyrics. After Gruenling provides more proof that he is a master on the chromatic harp, the guitarist delivers an equally riveting solo that cascades up and down the guitar neck. The unique guitar tone on “Stay Away” is courtesy of the Leslie speaker Deming spotted in the Blue Rock Bakery studio. Running his guitar through the speaker generated an otherworldly sound that echoes his grief-ridden vocal.
The band jumps the blues on the closing instrumental, a Gruenling composition entitled “Bella’s Boogie.” Deming fires the first volley with a blistering solo that only incites Gruenling to try to blow the roof off before they close playing a unison line at a hair-raising tempo. It is a final testament to the exceptional musical talent contained in this formidable lineup, with Doug Deming being the key. His talents as a singer, guitarist, and songwriter are undeniable. He has put together a recording that brings to life the spirit of a bygone era without sounding like a pale imitation. This one will definitely get repeated listens. And it’s a sure bet that their live shows will be a house-rockin’ party of the highest order. This one comes highly recommended!
Note: Doug Deming is featured on guitar and vocal on Dennis Gruenling’s new release, Rockin’ All Day, also on the VizzTone Label Group.
Mark Thompson is a contributing writer at BluesWax.
Disclosure: The parent company of this publication has an interest in the VizzTone Label Group.
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