It was a rare Thursday night at Buz And Ned’s Real Barbecue in Richmond’s West End as Jason Ricci and The Bad Kind rolled in for a sold-out show. Ostensibly it was a CD release party as Ricci is signed to EllerSoul Records, a Richmond based label that has been releasing great titles with very little recognition for the quality of their product.
This album could really change things for Ricci, for EllerSoul, and for Richmond.
First off, the new album, My Chops Are Rolling, was recorded in Bloomington, Indiana, an area Ricci knows fairly well and features a collection of top players. When Ricci is in familiar territory, he’s more relaxed and definitely inspired to take his music to a higher level. His live shows tend to be intense – he plays the blues differently than many, eschewing the traditional for his own hybrid style that mixes the traditional with raw doses of rock with an honesty that makes everything accessible to even the most casual listener.
Early in his career, critics used to use the term “punk blues” as a backhanded compliment. Trouble is, they probably didn’t realize that the term is an apt description in many ways, none of which are pejorative. Originally Punk as a musical genre was an attempt to break down rock from the bloated excess that it had become. It tore the music down to a basic three chords and attitude. It didn’t need to hide behind obscure lyrics, it stripped down everything to the barest levels and used plain street language to get its message out.
Ricci has a similar attitude with his approach to music. His songs are honest, raw, much like the old blues artists. In fact, Ricci has a great resect for the classic blues and records in that style with guitarist/singer J.J. Appleton.
It’s in his style where he truly shines however, and backed by guitarist John Lissi, drummer John Perkins, and bass player Todd Edmonds, the group created a sharp sound – actually the best sound of his three trips to Buz And Ned’s – that was powerful without being overwhelming.
A quick note about the backroom of Buz And Ned’s: it only seats 80-90 people so the audience is up close to the performers. The wait staff moves quickly in and out moving ribs, barbecue, and the occasional fried catfish plates to and from the tables. It gives me the feel of some of the coolest clubs in Chicago and the people who were there added to the atmosphere and amplified the experience for all.
While discussing the recent show for Ricci and the Bad Kind, I’m going to have to also talk about the new album, so this review may be a little long. Bear with me, hopefully it will all be worthwhile.
Starting with the live show, Ricci opened with some early blues before moving on to a selection from his previous EllerSoul release, Approved By Snakes. (I may have some of the titles wrong as I did not have much of a chance to review them with the band, but I will correct them as I can.) From there he changed pace and played a slow, blistering song, Way Down In The Hole.
He followed up with the title track from My Chops Are Rolling. It was a happy uptempo number that got the audience even more excited about the performance. Ricci then delivered one of his most powerful songs, The Way I Hurt Myself. This is the song of someone who carries a great deal of pain in his soul and the only way to exorcise it is to scream the pain out. Ricci had beautiful tone and phrasing throughout the song and he received a partial standing ovation for his efforts.
After that performance, Ricci needed a small break so, he played harp and Lisi sang the next two songs, before Ricci got behind the mic for a cover of R.L. Burnside’s Jumper On The Line (aka Jumper Hangin’ On The Line). It’s appropriate for him to cover some of Burnside’s music as he spent some time living with the family and developing his truthful approach to lyrics. He received a second standing ovation after the song.
He then brought the first set to a close with a new personal song, Sleeping On Biscuits. While taking a few minutes to step outside and vape, during which time he was greeted by old friends and signed autographs for new fans. I had a couple of minutes to reconnect with John Lissi, who told me his band Delta Funk will have a new album out this fall. Lissie is a guitar virtuoso and I am so looking forward to hearing it.
The second set started off with “one from the streets” Way Down In New Orleans. Lissi then performed one of his songs, My Mom Is Gonna Yell At You which led into an extended instrumental jam. After that, Ricci and The Bad Kind did a strong version of Sonny Boy Williamson’s Don’t Shoot The Messenger.
Ricci is one of the best musical story tellers, as he weaves in and out of the vamping music. I couldn’t tell you exactly what it was about, but I can tell you that I laughed my way through a lot of it. Pausing for a few minutes after that, he acknowledged a birthday in the room (Happy Birthday, Jessie!) by playing Happy Birthday on his harp and then playing Broken Toy, a favorite of the birthday girl.
He was not looking forward to performing the song, it’s very personal and emotional, but he made it through, even improvising new lyrics that improved the song in my opinion. When I asked her what she thought of Ricci performing the song for her, she replied, “The recording on Approved By Snakes is fabulous, with his passionate singing, but when you hear a favorite song in person, enveloped in the physical music floating through the air and filling the room, it’s a whole other experience!”
For the purists he closed out the show with Slim Harpo’s Scratch My Back and received a well deserved standing ovation. The four men took their bows and didn’t even pretend to leave the stage. Once the ovation slowed down, they regrouped and gave us an encore of I’m A New Man/Walk On The Wild Side. While some may not consider the Lou Reed classic to be a blues song, a song that celebrates outsiders surviving is pretty damn close subject-wise.
Now, to the actual new album. My Chops Are Rolling! is an extremely well-produced album. Ricci worked closely with Lissi and Rich Morpurgo to capture his sound as closely as possible. Ricci has so much energy that it is difficult to contain him on a disc. However, this album does come close to fulfilling that promise. Part of Ricci’s talent is his ability to be spontaneous at a high level, something that doesn’t always come across on any other medium but live performance.
Ricci handles most of the vocals and the harp and he’s joined by Lisi on guitar, dobro, and vocals; Andy Kurz on bass and backup vocals; John Perkins on drums and backup vocals; and Kaitlin Dibble on vocals and backing vocals. On one song that is released in two versions are Slats Klug on squeezebox; Ginger Darling on vocals; Mona Lisa on vocals; and Danny Deckard on percussion.
Strangely enough, he starts off the album not with one of his compositions, but one written by and sung by Lisi, Break In The Rain. I think Lisi is a fine performer and songwriter, it’s just that many artists would want the spotlight immediately and Ricci stands aside and lets his friend have it to kick off the album.
Ricci takes over for Don’t Badger The Witness, another song that sounds like it was stripped from real life. One thing about Ricci is he does not shy away from his demons past and present. No, he mines them for material and takes them out to dance in the moonlight.
Okay, song number three (and number eleven in a slightly different version) is F_ck The Falcons (Who Dat Nation). You have to know I am not a football fan but know many friends and family members who are. The song sounds like it was written in a sports bar with several pitchers of beer and many baskets of hot wings consumed. I love its spirit, and for SainAts fans, it will become an anthem. For radio producers, we might not get to share it with our audiences, but I will turn it up when I’m listening to the CD in the car!
Next up is an instrumental, Going To California, written by Jimmy Page. It’s perfectly situated on the album to calm things down after the drunken football celebration that precedes it. There’s a real surprise that follows, a song from Kaitlin Dibble. Dibble sings a gorgeous number, If You Should Lose Me, a Barbara Lynn tune. Dibble has a rich voice and I truly wish she had been able to come with the group on this current tour.
**Note to EllerSoul** Maybe its time to sign her to a contract and put together a full release of her singing. I eagerly await your decision…
Ricci follows up with the title track, My Chops Are Rolling. This is a rollicking raucous number that is a definite crowd pleaser. The songwriting credit goes to Ricci, Kurz, Lisi, Perkins, and Edmonds. If you read the review of the live show, Edmonds is Todd Edmonds who is playing bass on the road with Ricci. Ricci also says the song was inspired by Edmonds.
The next song is Sleeping On Biscuits, a number about the consequences that come from eating in bed. Especially KFC biscuits and chicken. It’s kind of hysterical and kind of scary at the same time.
Ricci then plays Snow Flakes And Horses before performing the seven-minute soul searing number The Way I Hurt Myself. Ricci is trying to release many of the demons that have inhabited his soul for years. It’s an incredibly personal and brave song that is much more than the average song. I put this song up with poetry stripped down to the most essential elements and don’t know how anyone can hear it and not be moved.
He bookends the opening Lisi track with Think It Over also by Lisi. It gives the album a certain symmetry and balance. True he does a second version of Who Dat Nation as the last song, but as it is a radio edit it’s not a new song but an afterthought.
If you made it through this entire review, I thank you. I recommend highly both My Chops Are Rolling! and the current Jason Ricci on tour. One thing that I’ve noticed is that Ricci is bringing in more and more audience members here as the word gets out. He’s a great player (several awards are on his resume) and a passionate performer who leaves everything on the stage.