The music we love was built by the bad kind. The kind that doesn’t do what is expected, the kind that strikes out on their own and finds a way to bring their music to more people. It happened with the blues, and long before Billy Hailey and his Comets put on suits and rocked around the clock, rock and roll was being played by African Americans in their own clubs, where most white people would never dare to enter.
It takes one moment to start a revolution. Dylan plugging in his guitar at the Newport Folk Festival, customs seizing copies of Alan Ginsburg’s Howl and declaring it obscene, Johnny Rotten snarling his way through God Save The Queen and immediately being banned by the BBC.
I don’t have a crystal ball to tell you that Jason Ricci & The Bad Kind will achieve that kind of notoriety with their new EllerSoul Records album, Approved By Snakes, but I can tell you that they have shook up some of the blues establishment, and the record doesn’t even release until late June.
For one thing, the record deals with adult themes like prostitution and drug abuse. Those subjects have been dealt with in numerous blues songs over the years, it’s just that Ricci has chosen to write about them in a blunt and open manner. For another, there is some adult language as well. The album carries a warning of explicit lyrics which I guess is designed to scare away the parents. To me, it seems like trying to keep ants away from the picnic by spreading sugar all over the ground.
I can’t imagine too many youngsters sneaking into the blues section of their local CD store looking for songs with explicit lyrics, but if they do, parents, do your duty…
An ominous bass opens the first song, My True Love Is A Dope Whore, along with Ricci’s harp and dark lyrics delivered as a film noir narrative. Ricci is taking his music into another dimension writing about life as he has experienced and cutting through the flowery nuances in favor of laying his message out for all to see and hear. Chances are he’s not going to reach the blues purists in the audience, but that’s okay with Ricci, he’s got to be true to his vision and produce the music his way – through all of the pain he’s endured.
Next up is Something Just Arrived, which arrives after some heavy percussion and guitars. The vocals are handled by Andy Kurz and Sam Hotchkiss and they seem to be taking a lighter approach with his delivery, even though they keep the intensity turned up, especially in the bass line. Ricci is a surprising performer, spurring the members of his band on, urging them to put their hearts and souls into each phrase by allowing other members to step out from their supporting roles and taking over the spotlight.
He follows up with Demon Lover, which starts off with some distorted harp, again lending an ominous air to the song. The music starts to come together like a Quentin Tarrantino soundtrack and Ricci’s vocals evoke those laid down by Jim Morrison in his most shamanistic period. The songs so far are as artistic as they are entertaining, and I’ve seen Ricci perform most of these live to an enthusiastic audience. You’ll need to make up your own minds (as you should on all the artists I get to write about) in order to decide if this journey is the one you wish to travel. Ricci's wife Kaitlin adds her backing vocals to the song.
It’s interesting that Ricci follows up the avant garde nature of the previous song with the one that is the shortest and most accessible, My Mom’s Gonna Yell At You. It’s a clever raucous number that lets Ricci rip on the harp and it features some tight vocals by guitarist John Lisi, who wrote the song. It’s got an infectious rock score and fun lyrics.
|Photo by Anita Schlank|
Some slow guitar opens Broken Toy / I Fink U Freaky, but is quickly dominated by Ricci’s vocals which are delivered like a stage play. The poetry is pure Burroughs, choppy, disjointed, and painful. Is Ricci painting a picture of his life, or using it as a means of exorcising his demons? Whatever that answer may ultimately be, it’s a powerful song that pushes the envelope of modern blues. He then follows up with a funky chant over some hard rocking guitar, I Fink U Freaky. A bold choice for a mash up…
He opens up Eddie Harris’ Listen Here by introducing the band and giving them a little story behind each one. He does this when performing live and he brings the same energy to the studio. It’s a good cover of a great song and one that will definitely appeal to those who love Harris’ music. At just a shade over 10 minutes, this jam song is the longest on the album and is a big hit when performed live.
He opens up Terrors Of Nightlife with just an acoustic guitar and his pained expressions. The song was written and originally performed by Dax Riggs, but Ricci makes it seem like is was written expressly for him. His fear is palpable and the backing vocals by Black Betty (that’s her performing name, her real name is Jenny Langer) makes the song stand out, as does Lisi’s guitar break.
Ricci and the Bad King get funky on Lisi’s Got Cleaned Up. It’s the story of what a person faces once the decision has been made to clean up one’s life. We might think it’ll all be easier once that happens, but the truth is, it’s never easy. It won’t be all sunbeams and rainbows, there’s still a lot of things to work through. But it’s worth it, it’s just a life long struggle for balance. Kaitlin Ricci's vocals add a nice touch to the song.
Ricci writes the next song, his own personal anthem, I’m Too Strong For You. To come out of everything he’s dealt with with this kind of confidence is refreshing and you know he’s going to make it work. It’s a great song and I understand there is an extended version of it available at http://www.ellersoulrecords.com/. Can’t wait to check that one out…
Lisi writes the funky song, Disconnect, and the Bad Kind turns it into a great free flowing jam of a song. Lisi delivers the vocals in a hip hop manner utilizing different beats to go with the rhythms the band establishes. It’s a great tune, but please don’t expect this to be a Delta number, it’s aimed at a different audience. Just might find it too.
He brings the album to a close with 515. The entire band launches into this song with abandon. Ricci’s vocals are back into high energy territory in the way he delivers the lyrics. The darkness that has surrounded the album may be pierced by the music of this song. The funk ending drives the song and gives it a real energy boost going out.
Jason Ricci is a helluva performer, a solid harp player and singer, a strong writer, and a guy who has lived through some of the most harrowing experiences and used them to make art. Is he going to be one of those guys who will be on every playlist? Probably not, but often that is the consequence of being honest these days.
Some folks might not want to hear it, but it is so important to get this material out in the world. I like Ricci’s work a lot. I’m drawn to those artists who shake things up, and trust me, on Approved By Snakes, Ricci and The Bad Kind shake it up a lot.
He’s usually not hard to find in New Orleans, but hopefully he’ll get out on the road more. Be sure to check him out at http://www.mooncat.org/ to see where he’s going to be playing next!