JJ Appleton & Jason Ricci – Dirty Memory
Old Boy Network
11 tracks/43:49 minutes
It’s fitting that Jason Ricci performed with Zac Brown of the Zac Brown Band and Tom Morello of My Morning Jacket at the induction of The Butterfield Blues Band into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. With his innovative runs on his harp, his canny, sly, raucous songwriting, as well as his ability to weave his deep and resonant harp tones under and around JJ Appleton’s slicing, sharp, and precise guitar riffs, Ricci is the Paul Butterfield of our time. Like Butterfield, Ricci infiltrates our souls with a depth of tone on the harp that shakes us so that the blues become palpable; we feel his music deep down in our bones on every one of these songs on Dirty Memory, whether the songs are celebrating renewal—”New Man”—or loss—”It Ain’t No Use”—or whether Ricci’s just boisterously reveling in the breathless beauty of the harmonica unbound—”Jason’s Solo.”
Of the eleven songs on Dirty Memory, Appleton contributes five, Ricci three, and the duo covers three others: Blind Willie Johnson’s “Nobody’s Fault But Mine,” The Stones’ “Black Limousine,” and Gary U.S. Bond’s “It Ain’t No Use.” Bassists Tim LeFebvre (Tedeschi Trucks) and Neal Heidler (Eddie Harris) create a deep bottom rhythm section on each song that drives the tunes along percussively.
On the opening track, the Appleton-penned “Leaning Blues,” Ricci blows for all he’s worth, his harp runs calling back to Appleton’s guitar riffs, but also twinning as a lead guitar on one of the song’s bridges. He punctuates his harmonica blasts with guttural grunts and thrusts that wring the life out of the tune, as it builds from a spare harmonica run to a layered acoustic blues.
Applton’s bright resonator guitar opens the duo’s cover of “Nobody’s Fault But Mine,” a choogling boogie that carries lightness at its heart in spite of the theme of individual responsibility and the possibilities of failure at the centre of the song. Reminiscent of The Stones’ “Hip Shake Boogie,” “Can’t Believe It’s This Good” strides along a funky groove sonically and languorously recreating the slow act of seduction and sex, adding layer upon layer of sound as an emulation of climb to climax.
Smoky jazz wisps curl in and around the Ricci-penned “New Man,” with Ricci blowing his harp so adeptly that it comes across as a saxophone. The tune celebrates the singer’s release from a life where he’s been imprisoned, both literally and by the bad habits that have controlled his life. The almost happy-go-lucky jazz melody drives home the singer’s promise in the lyrics that he’s actually starting over in his life. The brightness of the music cannily underscores the hope of the lyrics.
Halfway through the album, Ricci lets loose on “Jason’s Solo,” a rowdy and unruly harp fest on which Ricci rambles riotously for six minutes through every variation on a musical theme. Like Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull, Ricci uses his breath as an instrument, turning his raspy gasps and gulps for air into emotional punctuation marks between dazzling runs on his harp. He build the song slowly by laying out the bars of the song’s musical theme and then he picks up speed, circling around and around on the motif until the song’s almost out of control when he reins it back in. In the middle of the tune, Ricci launches into War’s “Low Rider” and circles around it as a sub-motif of the tune. With its out-of-control energy, the song easily becomes the high point of the album, showcasing Ricci’s improvisation and the way he’s made his imprint on the instrument.
The album closes with a stellar track penned by Appleton, “Come on Over, Come on By.” Appleton opens the tune with his spare resonator guitar riffs, slowly weaving his vocals under and around his guitar licks. The song resembles Delaney and Bonnie’s version of “Come on in My Kitchen,” though Appleton’s is a slow burn of a song, building layer upon layer, urging his lover to stop by anytime.
Dirty Memory delivers acoustic blues at its best, in the tradition of Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee. Ricci’s harmonica genius finds its match in Appleton’s brilliant and tasty licks on the resonator and together they’ve produced an album memorable for its canny and energetic way of putting the blues in our souls.
Reviewer Henry L. Carrigan, Jr. writes about music and music books for No Depression, American Songwriter, Country Standard Time, and Wide Open Country.