JJ Appleton & Jason Ricci – Beautiful Slop
Oct 2018, Old Boy Network
10 songs, 39 minutes
JJ Appleton is a NYC-based singer-songwriter who’s toured extensively in the United States, both in support of his own records as well as with other performers such as Pete Yorn, Sister Hazel, Hootie and the Blowfish, Joan Osborne, and Keb Mo. Appleton was a member of a popular New York band, The Grasshoppers, and went on to release his first solo album, 500 Moments in 2003, followed by a couple of others over the years. Appleton was handpicked by David Bowie as guitarist for his limited-run 2015 musical, Lazarus. In 2015, Appleton teamed up with harmonica virtuoso Jason Ricci to record Dirty Memory, an acoustic blues album. The album was very well-received, and went on to spend 10 weeks on the Roots Music Report’s Top 50 Acoustic Blues Albums chart, going on to receive a Best New Artist Debut award from Blues 411.
Jason Ricci is an American harmonica player and vocalist whose skill with the instrument places him firmly in the top echelon of its contemporary masters. In addition to his solo albums, Ricci has appeared as a guest player on albums with Johnny Winter, Nick Curran, Ana Popovic, Walter Trout, Cedric Burnside, The Mannish Boys and Joe Louis Walker, among others. Ricci was named “Best Harmonica Player” at both the 2010 and 2018 Blues Music Awards. In February 2015, Ricci played at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with the Paul Shaffer Band, Tom Morello and Zac Brown to induct the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. He also tours with his band, Jason Ricci and the Bad Kind, signing a record deal with the Ellersoul Label and releasing Approved By Snakes in June of 2017. Approved By Snakes was nominated for Best Contemporary Blues Album in the 2018 Blues Blast Music Awards.
Way back in 2000, harmonica educator Adam Gussow (Satan and Adam), writing in Blues Access magazine, said “I am convinced he (Ricci) – along with New Jersey’s Dennis Gruenling – is one of the best harmonica players of his generation.” You’ll get no argument from me, about either of these gentlemen!
Produced by Appleton and Derek Nievergelt (who also plays upright bass on these tracks), Beautiful Slop continues their musical journey together, and it is one hot album! Combining the traditional sounds of the Mississippi Delta and Piedmont-style blues guitar with a decidedly contemporary approach to songwriting, and Ricci’s otherworldly skill with an unamplified harmonica, this album is a real treat to enjoy! Having seen Ricci perform with an electric band, it’s clear that he has technical chops that place him in the very top tier of contemporary harmonica players, but his exquisite taste and soulful playing are what stand out so prominently on this collection. With no amplification to hide behind, you hear – and appreciate – every breath behind the flawless – and very fluid – choice of notes that come out of his harmonica.
To record this album, the duo took over bassist/producer Nievergelt’s Brooklyn basement studio for two days, in 90-degree heat and with no air conditioning. The resulting recording – 7 original tunes and 3 covers – feels very intimate yet lively, and captures the subtlety of each string, reed, and voice, to deliver the experience of being in the same room with these players. Nievergelt also played acoustic upright bass on the album, providing just the right amount of bottom to propel these 10 performances and make them even greater than the sum of their parts.
Appleton used a 1932 National Resonator throughout this recording, while Ricci (nicknamed “Moon Cat, “a street name he once used in Nashville and New Orleans in order to avoid police detection) uses Blue Moon and Joe Spiers harmonicas, and the Jason Ricci Lone Wolf Microphone.
Every cut on this collection is a good one. From the album’s up-tempo opening cut, “Don’t Take Advantage of Me” (also released as a single), you get the sense that you’re witnessing a late night, back porch performance that is both intimate and powerful. “Hurt Myself” is a slow, mournful blues that taps into buckets of disappointment, of both the regular kind and the self-inflicted kind, with Ricci coaxing some unearthly wails from his instrument. “Geaux Nuts Kidz” has a vibrant, New Orleans-y, dance hall feel to it, with Ricci vamping on what I presume to be a double-reed harmonica, providing an almost accordion-like feel to the track. “I Got the Feeling” chuggs along at a leisurely pace, with a pulsing upright bass anchoring the call-and-response of the vocal, guitar, and harmonica. “Brighter Days” brings a slow churn and some of the most sultry harp playing I’ve ever heard!
All in all, Beautiful Slop is a wonderful album that manages to marry traditional country blues with some contemporary and stellar playing by both Appleton and Ricci. This is definitely one you’ll want to enjoy with headphones, as the recording quality is stellar, and the performances are exceptional!