|Jason Ricci and John Lisi In Constant Motion|
Jason Ricci does not play the harp. Instead, he embodies the harp, he attacks with the harp and takes it into territories that few have ever done. At a show, last night at Buz & Ned’s Real Barbecue on West Broad Street in which he and his band, The Bad Kind, were celebrating the completion of a new album for EllerSoul Records, Ricci ran through a two-hour-plus performance that was exhausting to watch, but exhilarating to hear.
Be forewarned, while everything Ricci and The Bad Kind play is steeped in the blues, it’s often a jumping off point for them as they move into territories that include hard rock and a touch of jazz. It’s very difficult to apply too many labels to his style of music because it’s a shape shifter – sometimes even in the middle of a song.
But’s it the blues that informs his performances. After all, the man played on Johnny Winters 2014 Grammy-award winning release Step Back, and was part of the crew that inducted the Paul Butterfield Band into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame. He’s recorded several releases on his own, and if the music we heard last night is any indication, this next release (sorry, I don’t have a title for the project yet) is going to be a killer!
The first set was a mixture of music from that album as well as a few covers, including a scorching version of Drifting Blues that left the audience breathless. A couple of other stand outs were numbers that were performed by his friend and frequent musical collaborator John Lisi, Can You Dig It and the very cool My Mom’s Gonna Yell At You When You Get To Heaven.
That last one may have a wild title and some fun lyrics, but the audience really got into it in a big way and it was good to see guitarist Lisi cut loose. The remaining members of The Bad Kind are lost to me at the moment as I scribbled their name down in the dark and can’t decipher them now in the light. I can tell you that Sam, the other guitarist, is amazing and once I get his name will burn it into my memory in order to make sure I catch him at every opportunity. (Professor's footnote: Thanks to "Amazing" Anita Schlank, I now know that the remaining members of The Bad Kind are "Evil" Andy Kurz on bass; Adam "Bomb" Baumol on drums; and the guitarist in question is Sam Hotchkiss.)
One of the highlights was Ricci reaching deep into his well-spring of emotion for an extended version of Demon Lover, a song that he released on an album with JJ Appleton called Dirty Memory. Demon Lover is the kind of song that the average performer cannot sing because the imagery is so personal and you know that Ricci is reliving every horrible moment from his life in order to recreate it on stage. It’s a very raw and brave song.
After a short break for libations and vaping, Ricci returned to the stage with another energetic set that featured his funkier side. He followed up and extended version of Everything I Do Gonna Be Funky with the slow blistering Otis Rush song, Double Trouble. On Trouble, he took a lengthy harp break that even included a jazzy riff on the song My Favorite Things from The Sound of Music.
Don’t hear that every day at a blues show…
He also had a great take on Too Strong For You, and unveiled Cactopus, the story of a cactus-octopus hybrid that would put Dr. Moreau to shame. That one came with a lengthy ribald story that left the audience gasping for breath as we were laughing so hard.
He closed with another personal song, Broken Toy, that again dug deeply into his troubled past in order to release some of his own personal demons by exorcising them in front of an audience. He brought the evening to a close with a song with great punk energy, I Think You’re Freaky And I Like You A Lot.
Don’t hold me to those titles. Honestly, I was so mesmerized by his playing that I just jotted down whatever I could.
I have seen a number of harp players over the years. Some of those greats were responsible for making me want to play the instrument myself. Ricci, without a doubt, is one of the finest players I have ever had the privilege of watching as well as being an amazing performer and front man. He has the ability to be, at turns, charming, serious, laughing, and deadly serious. He seems to be genuinely grateful for the opportunity to be in front of an audience, and trust me, the audience is grateful to catch him.
He’s heading off down the road, going to another town, so we’ll just have to wait for the album to hit the street, and maybe we’ll be lucky enough to catch him again when he comes back.
(Photo of Jason Ricci and John Lisi by Anita Schlank. Used by permission.)