Sunday, August 11, 2019

Jason Ricci ~~ My Chops Are Rolling and On Tour

 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.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Time For The Blues ~~ August 10, 2019

Henry and I hope you will join us on Time For The Blues this Saturday night, August 10 at 10:00, when we unleash what will surely be – another episode of great music, and some of the worst jokes ever uttered on this or any other radio station.

By now you’ve probably heard that we have a new identity: VPM-Music. As a result, Mr. Cook has been burning the candle at both ends, and using a blowtorch to do it. He tried to borrow my flamethrower to really light things up, but it was in the shop that week.

Seriously, he’s been working night and day doing that engineer stuff that goes over my head. Fortunately, I have very little to do around here except sit in for other hosts when they want a day off. I’m ready to jump in and play classical or jazz pretty much at a moment’s notice, but my heart and soul are firmly rooted in the blues.  

If you’re up for it, let’s see what tasty treats we’re serving up this weekend. For starters, we’ve received a brand-new release from Savoy Brown. The group has been kicking around since the mid-sixties and while there’s only one original member left, they are still making great music. This new album is called City Night and is available from Quarto Valley Records. We’ve got three songs from that album for you to enjoy. 

Speaking of artists who have been around for a while, our next feature focuses on the great Peter Frampton (yes, that Peter Frampton) who has just released an all Blues album, called coincidentally enough, All Blues. Listening to radio in the seventies meant that Henry and I heard a lot of Frampton, and after seeing his performance in Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, we didn’t hear so much from him again. 
Remember this guy?

Frampton shows off his guitar skills and does a credible job interpreting some classics. It surprised me when I first heard it, and I hope you will like it as well.

Frampton has a connection to our unusual suspect for this week. I don’t want to ruin the surprise, but I think this week’s selection is the most unusual suspect of all. In fact, it’s taken me a long time to track down one of the songs we’re playing (it was recorded in 1964 under a different name), and Henry quickly filled in with the rest. Stay intrigued, and see if you can guess who it is.

And there’s even more beyond that smorgasbord of great music. We have a new release from Virginia guitar wizard Tom Euler, one from rock blues impresario J.D. Simo, and one from the band with the coolest name of the week, The Jersey Swamp Cats!

Do you want to take a chance on missing all this? I don’t think so. If you’re a regular listener, we know you’re going to do whatever you need to do to join us at 10:00. If you’re new to Time For The Blues, drop by and find out what everybody is talking about.

We’ve got everything all laid out and ready to go, all we need is you and a few hundred of your closest friends. We've changed the address, but you know how to find us, point your browser here, or join us on one of the VPM Stations: 89.1 WCVN, Northern Neck; 90.1 WMVE, Chase City; and the flagships, 93.1 and 107.3 VPM-Music, Richmond, where it’s always Time For The Blues!

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Guitar Wizards Tab Benoit and Eric Johanson Cast Spell On Tin Pan

Check one off the bucket list. I’ve been chasing Tab Benoit for the better part of two decades trying to catch him live. Every time he’s been near my town I’ve been someplace else or otherwise committed to something that I could not change or miss. When the opportunity presented itself to catch him live at Richmond’s Tin Pan, I was excited to finally catch him live.
Even though I loved his albums and many friends told me how great he was live, I was slightly worried that his performance would not live up to my expectations. Within a couple of notes I knew it was going to be a great time and could relax and enjoy the ride.
Benoit started out the evening playing drums for guitarist Eric Johanson along with bass player Corey Duplechin. Johanson released one album, Burn It Down, on Whiskey Bayou Records in 2017, and another with Tiffany Pollock on Nola Blue in 2019. I’m a little behind in my reviewing the disc with Pollock, and never picked up a copy of his debut disc, but after his three songs, I made a beeline for the merch table.
Johanson is an accomplished guitar player and singer and he got the evening off with some fast and furious playing. I didn’t catch the name of his opening number, but now that I have his first CD (also recorded with Benoit and Duplechin), I’ll find it later. He followed up with Live Oak, a slower number before ending with Till We Bleed.
I really enjoyed his set, and hope to catch him somewhere down the road with a full show. I think he’s got the chops and stage presence to become a real player in the blues world. Judging from the audience’s reaction, I’m not alone in that assessment.
It didn’t take long for the performers to set up the stage for Benoit. Jeffrey “Jellybean” Alexander replaced Benoit on drums, Duplechin returned to his bass position, and Benoit strapped on his guitar and the trio launched into a wild, fast, version of Why People Like That?
The group paused for just a few seconds before playing the swampy number Whole Lot Of Something. (Note, I may call some songs by the wrong title due to my ignorance, but if anyone can correct me, please drop me a line at and I will happily make the correction.)
“Swampy” is a good description for Benoit, as he hails from the swamp lands of Louisiana and has done a lot of charity work on behalf of preserving the wetlands. It also describes a lot of his music, that kind of blues that conjures up high humidity, Spanish moss, and dark subjects.
After the song and the audience’s applause died down, the Richmonders politely fell silent waiting for the next song. For the first time that night, Benoit addressed the group asking, “Why y’all so quiet?” He then proceeded to regale us with a story of how he uses his home environment to create his work. According to him, his method is to “go fishing and catch a song.”
Benoit would tell several stories throughout the night, all of them lighthearted and almost all were gut-busting funny. The stories rarely reflected anything to do with the songs he was introducing and no one cared. Sometimes he meandered around in circles looking for a place to land, but always managed to find a way. While some of these interludes may have been repeated over and over, but judging by the response of his band – laughing at every story like it was the first time – it may have very well been spontaneous.
He moved on to a Zydeco number that he says he spent four minutes writing it and four minutes recording it so we were going to get “eight minutes of really hard work.” Originally, he recorded the song If It Takes All Night with the late Dr. John, but tonight the Zydeco sounds came from his guitar and Alexander’s drums. While he was playing this song, I noticed for the first time that he was playing entirely without pedals. He got some of the most amazing sounds out of his guitar the old fashioned way.
Needless to say, I was impressed.
So was the rest of the audience as he received his first standing ovation of the night.
The group then went into a very slow blues, Dirty Dishes Blues. Afterwards a story about his friendship with Albert Collins and how Collins taught him “how to be, not how to play.”
He played a few more songs that had me too focused on the performance to jot down titles until he got to Nothing Takes The Place of You. He closed out the performance with a blistering version of Medicine, a song he wrote with Anders Osborne, most likely while fishing.
This led to a loud and prolonged standing ovation until he came back on stage joined by Duplechin and Alexander. Also, Eric Johanson returned and the band delivered an incredible version of Night Train before saying goodnight.
Most of the sold out crowd went to the merch table to pick up some CDs and tour t-shirts. I always encourage that as many artists that work this hard and keep their music honest (no overdubs, no sweetening of vocals, no faking), don’t make as much as a living as most of us believe. In a world of downloads, these throwback road warriors remind us all of the music we used to have and could have again.
Many of these artists have dedicated their lives to mastering their craft and sharing it with us, let’s all take advantage of this great opportunity to hear live music. There could come a time when clubs like The Tin Pan won’t exist, and the work of artists like Tab Benoit and Eric Johanson will only be found on dusty CDs that can’t be played anymore.
Whatever music you love: blues, country, jazz, rock, folk, disco, polka, punk, it doesn’t matter. Just get out and support it. You’ll feed off the energy and the music will continue to live on!

(All photos by Anita Schlank. Used by permission with many thanks.)