14 November 2009

Jason Ricci and New Blood: "Done with the Devil"

Admittedly, this being the first blues review on SlowdiveMusic Blog, there is a bit of nervous excitement about writing this one. And though I may have passively listened to the blues in the past (my father was a fan), I have never invested the time and energy to really listen to blues. But this is a process of discovery. Sometimes you have to meet the right person, with a great passion for something alien to yourself, to really get interested. Unlike previous reviews, where I may have “lived” with the band for years or at least the genre/scene they belong to, this is new territory for me. So I hope you enjoy the review and become curious enough in the blues to start plunging into this incredible sonic world. So enough of my faffing, enjoy the review!

Over the last few weeks, I have been having the crash course on the blues. Thanks to my friend, Belladonna, I have started to look into and invest in some of the greatest artists of our time. And I don’t mean “of our time” as some pejorative euphemism for the last fifty years, but rather the here and now that we all share. And one of these acts is Jason Ricci and New Blood, whose latest album “Done with the Devil” (21 April 2009) has blown me away… away… and I’m still drifting away. Jason Ricci is a study in contradictions when it comes to the blues. For instance, the blues is usually associated with dispossessed African Americans, and Ricci is white, suburban, upper middle-class. And though I would not consider the politics of the blues as conservative, I would consider their social values to be old school, which gives rise to yet another contradiction: Ricci is openly gay in a homophobic scene. Regardless, though, is the fact that he is the heir-apparent to the title of “The King of the Harmonica.” From the amazing musicianship to the soulful vocals, the riveting in-your-face attitude of the music, “Done with the Devil” is one of those albums that I really regret not discovering upon its release.

What is apparent about the music is that it draws influence from more than just traditional blues. There is definitely a streak of punk rock going through the music. “I Turned into a Martian” is one such song, with harmonica playing that is as aggressive and powerful as any guitar virtuoso. This is not meant to take anything away from guitarist Shawn Starski; his guitar playing varies in style song to song, with a chameleon like ability to deliver new depths and elements to blues music. Another track that will take you by surprise is “Sweet Loving” – as close the Memphis style that the band has ever produced. This is the least confrontational song on the album, easily whisking the listener into a good mood, chanting along with the titular chorus –“Sweet loving with my baby…”

Unlike the majority of rock and pop bands, where lead vocal duties are handled by one singer, Jason Ricci and New Blood share lead vocal duties from time to time. For instance, “How It Came to Be” is sung by Starski, while “Keep the Wolf from My Door” is song by drummer Ed Michaels. However, the fluidity of the album is never sacrificed by the sharing of the vocal duties. Actually, even when styles are significantly shifted, the album is incredibly fluidic. From the opening track, “ Done with the Devil” (country influenced blues, with a definite 70s rock production style), to the closing track, “Enlightenment” (beginning with an eerie carnival theme, the song is an instrumental showcase of some of the best playing out there – possibly the best of the year), this is the single most solid album I have heard all year.

“Enlightenment” is an interesting title for an instrumental. It has given me food for thought, and I am not sure what was going through the head of the band when they wrote and titled it, but I venture to say that the true enlightenment that musicians have to face is that at the end of it all, it is all about the music. It is about the craftsmanship, the artistry, pushing the boundaries, and not becoming a cliché. Every member of this band could easily take a safe listener-friendly route, but they decided not to. Instead what you have here with “Done with the Devil” is Jason Ricci and New Blood at their best – being artists and turning the blues world on its head. This is not an album that you want to miss; check your hang ups at the door with your coat and take a serious listen.

Track Listing:
1. Done with the Devil
2. Sweet Loving
3. Holler for Craig Lawler
4. Broken Toy
5. Ptryptophan Pterodactyl
6. I Turned into a Martian
7. As Long As I Have Y ou
8. How It Came to Be
9. Life of Denial
10. Afro Blue
11. Keep the Wolf from My Door
12. Englightenment

Keep up with Jason Ricci and New Blood at their homepage, MySpace, and Facebook.

Up coming tour dates (refer to band’s homepage for more information):

• November 15: Erie, PA USA – Avalon Hotel
• November 16: Cleveland, OH USA – The Winchester
• November 17: Harrisburg, PA USA – The Maennerchor
• November 18: Piermont, NY USA – Turning Point
• November 19: Woonsocket, RI USA – Chan’s
• November 20: Washington, DC USA – Madame’s Organ
• November 21: Charleston, WV USA – The Empty Glass
• November 22: Dayton, OH USA – Gilly’s
• November 27: Saint Antonin Noble-Val, FRANCE – Live at Saint Antonin-Salle des Fetes
• November 28: St. Remy les Chevreuse, FRANCE – Espace Jean Racine
• November 29: Weert, THE NETHERLANDS – De Bosuil
• December 2: Broleck, GERMANY – Kornbrennerei / Radio Live
• December 3: Enschede, THE NETHERLANDS – Nix BBBlues Club
• December 4: Diest, BELGIUM – The Borderline
• December 6: Njimegen, THE NETHERLANDS – Doornroosje
• December 12: Charlotte, NC USA – Double Door Inn
• December 13: Atlanta, GA USA – Smith’s Olde Bar
• December 31: Bradenton, FL USA – Ace’s Lounge
• January 1: Cocoa Beach, FL USA – Beach Shack
• January 2: Tallahassee, FL USA – Bradfordville Blues Club
• January 23-30: Ft. Lauderdale, FL USA – Legendary Rhythm and Blues Cruise

Here is a live performance of “Broken Toy” at Moulin Festival is Ospel, Holland (The Netherlands) from the jasonricci YouTube Channel.

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