My, what a good time for an album review
Writing about Jason Ricci has been on my agenda more or less since I started blogging on the Harp Surgery. Itâs odd, really, that he doesnât get much airtime here, considering heâs one of the most phenomenal players alive AND his unsolicited praise adorns our sidebar. In fact, the first gig review Wilf ever did for this website was Jason Ricci but that was years ago. Itâs high-time we checked in on him again.
So today Iâm finally going to review Jasonâs album, Done with the Devil. What finally got me off the couch (figuratively anyway) was the news that heâs had a bad run of luck recently. We saw reports in June, and a great deal of speculation, that there had been some reshuffles in, or departuresÂ from, his (very very good) band, New Blood â and that all engagements were on hold âtil August. On top of that his website is down, heâs in hospital with a punctured lung and no health insurance, and a series of financial calamities seem to have come calling at just the wrong time.
And because Jason Ricci is to 21st century harmonica what sliced bread was to sandwiches, Iâll make a suggestion of what you can do to help.
Itâs pronounced Jay-son Rih-chee
First, letâs introduce the man, just in case you havenât had the absolutely terrifying experience of Jason Ricciâs sonic samurai style. He combines the old-school Chicago sound of your Little Walters with rapid-fire Pat Ramsey licks, then shoots them to pieces with rapid-fire machine gun overblows and then drags âem to Jazztown. If that sounds like a confused description, itâs because listening to Jason Ricci can provoke very confused emotions.
Simply put, give him a harmonica and Ricci is a dangerous man. Check this out:
When he saw him in 2007, our own Wilf wrote:
He has planted his flag on the ramparts of Fort Radical. His appearance and his persona is that of an edgy Punk. His energy is arresting. His playing is simply astonishing. If I had to credit specific harmonica players and bands for redefining the bluesâ boundaries, Blues Traveler, Alabama 3, Little Axe, Lee Sankey, Lee Oskar and Sugar Blue readily come to mind. Jason Ricci vaults them all.
That about sums it up.
Done with the Devil
Many moons later, after reading much effusive praise for Ricci and watching many of his killer videos, I finally got âround to purchasing his latest album, Done with the Devil.
What can I say? Iâve heard a lot of hardcore blues fans dismiss Ricci by saying âIt ainât bluesâ or that itâs âjust notesâ. Certainly, not all of it is blues, and there are a lot of notes. There are times when his fast runs sound a bit like Eddie van Halen, but (perhaps unlike van Halen) Ricci still knows where to leave space. Just because his harp is fast-talking doesn’t mean it’s verbose.
The title track, âDone with the Devilâ is a hectic rock-edged number that offers a little insight into Ricciâs own demons and his emergence from an apparently troubled past: âdone with the devil, but the devil ainât done with you,â goes the chorus. Predictably it features some high octane solos that will burn your eyebrows off if you stand too close to the speakers, so donât.
This is an eclectic album, but there are a few tracks to satisfy the blues lovers. âKeep the Wolf From My Doorâ and âHow It Came To Beâ offer two great expos on electric and acoustic approaches to roots music, demonstrating how comfortable Jason Ricci is in the blues tradition while reworking it artfully.
âSweet Lovingâ is a surprisingly catchy tune, considering itâs an upbeat, syrupy love song that should stick out on this album like a teenage Paul Butterfield in the south side of Chicago. I think its appeal may lie in being the first harmonica ballad to homosexual love (Ricci has been openly gay for a while now) that simultaneously shreds 3rd-position harp playing a new a****** on the lower octave.
Youâll find more emotional depth in the song âBroken Toyâ, a tortured rumination on sexual identity â ânot a girl nor a boy/ I feel just like a broken toyâ. Our man takes a turn on the chromatic, alternating with a scorching diatonic solo that will leave any remaining harp-blowing homophobes with something to think about.
Here are some quick critical comments
1. Ricciâs vocals are serviceable, but they pale in comparison to his harp skills.
2. Not everyoneâs going to swallow the punk-edged âI Turned Into a Martianâ.
3. Even less so the just plain crazy âAfro Blueâ. Iâm guessing itâs just too avant-garde for your average blues, brews and BBQs harp player. It does, however, show why Jason Ricci is an easy contender for being the most important harmonica player of his generation.
3. The album ends on a very bizarre note: the final track âEnlightenmentâ is a carnival-themed piece that reminds me the1920s German expressionist film Das Kabinett Des Doktor Caligari.
Help a brother out
But listen, the albumâs cooking. If nothing else, every harmonica player should own it just so they know how violently a man can drag Hohnerâs tiny toy into the 21st century. Overblows, overdraws, bends to the yayas: there is no territory beyond Ricciâs reach. If youâve ever, ever considered supporting a master of our art, make it Jason Ricci. The timing couldnât be better. Jason himself has said:
When asked, “How did a white boy from Maine get the blues?” I often answer, “If you don’t have the blues when you start playing them, you will after ten years of trying to make a living at it.”
So let meÂ put this in even clearer terms. If you want to help Jason and yourself, buy his new album. Now.