A singer who just keeps getting better and better is Darrell Nulisch. After stints with Anson Funderburgh & the Rockets and Ronnie & the Broadcasters, as well as a few fine sessions for Black Top Records, Nulisch went the independent route to great artistic success. His second release for Maryland-based Severn Records, I Like It That Way, is a musical gem, with ten well-crafted soul and blues songs.
Nulisch's rich, smooth soulful vocals are enough to carry the album alone. But the exquisite guitar work of Jon Moeller pushes this disc up a couple of levels. Moeller is another in a long line of great guitar players from the Dallas, Texas area, and he continually proves himself to be one of the best on the scene today, delivering innovative and intricate riffs throughout the recording.
I Like It That Way begins with a classic soul sound, with "You Tore My Playhouse Down" being adapted from the Earl Randle-penned classic "Tear Your Playhouse Down."
Moeller's strong contributions to the album kick in on the second cut, "Getaway Place," a feelgood soul number punctuated by a stinging guitar solo so that that it will leave you with sweat on your brow. Also shining on this tune is pianist Benjie Porecki, who consistently contributes tasteful accompaniment.
The best cut on the album is a Nulisch original, "After All," a mid-tempo love song featuring pleading vocals nicely framed by Moeller's guitar and a hot Porecki piano solo.
I Like It That Way takes a shift to the blues side on the B.B. King slow blues, "Worried Dream," when Nulisch's vocals take on a much earthier tone. I realize this is getting repetitive, but Moeller's guitar playing here is not to be missed. The horn section also plays a big part on this tune, especially the sound of the muted trumpet giving this down and dirty blues a little uptown touch. This song should be nominated for some kind of award at year-end.
East Coast Beach music fans will like the light-hearted "I Like Your Style." Nulisch has a real talent for changing his vocal style to fit the particular song, and the contrast between the grittier blues of "Worried Dream" and this number demonstrates this versatility.
Porecki, who recorded his own album on Severn a few years ago, sets the tone for "Where My Baby Is" with a heavy gospel-sounding organ intro and mid-song solo. Like Moeller, Porecki is a vastly underrated musician who needs to be better known in the blues world. Joe Maher and the excellent Jessie Yawn contribute stirring background vocals here.
Nulisch is also a good harmonica player, and he finally pulls out his mouth organ for some nice Jimmy Reed-style harp on the catchy soulful blues of "Once in a Lifetime Love."
The CD ends with two wonderful covers. Otis Rush's shuffling "Mean Old World" finds Nulisch's voice taking on the requisite West Side Chicago grit, while Moeller delivers some of his most creative guitar work. There's also a fine B-3 solo from Porecki.
Nulisch saves the best for last, as he turns in a strong send-up of one of Otis Redding's lesser-known soul classics, "Trick or Treat." The horns play a big part in the success of this one, with punchy riffs scattered throughout the song.
I Like It That Way is now in the running for the best disc in the year 2000, but don't wait until my year-end wrap-up to score this one. Get it now!--- Bill Mitchell
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