Behind the Veil, the latest offering from New Orleans-based harmonica titan Jason Ricci and his band, The Bad Kind, showcases the depth and sheer scope of his harmonica skills against a solid song-oriented backdrop.
Ricci, rightfully a celebrated and distinguished figure in the modern blues scene, teamed up with Tony Daigle to produce the album, which was recorded at the Dockside Studio in Maurice, Louisiana. In addition to Ricci on harmonica and vocals, the band consists of Ricci’s wife Kaitlin Dibble (vocals), Brent Johnson (guitar, backup vocals), Jack Joshua (double bass, electric bass, vocals) and John Perkins (drums).
Additionally, the album features notable guest appearances. Joe Krown takes charge of piano and Hammond B3 organ on tracks 2, 8, and 12, lending his galvanizing approach to the compositions. Ricci’s Gulf Coast labelmate and guitar extraordinaire Joanna Connor adds her mastery to the mix, contributing guitar brilliance on track 10, while singer Lauren Mitchell graces the album with some enveloping backup vocals.
The album opens with “Casco Bay,” a sea shanty-inspired piece that immediately stands out thanks to its piercing guitar licks, evocative harmonica work, and the charming addition of an accordion, which lends the song a waltz-themed appeal. It’s a strong opener that sets the stage for what follows.
Next, we are treated to a cover of Ruth Brown’s classic number “5-10-15″. Ricci and his band deliver a remarkable rendition, with Dibble’s inspired performance stealing the show. The tight groove, catchy hooks, and a harmonica solo showcasing Ricci’s melodic control also make this track a standout example of a classic New Orleans-styled blues.
“Cirque Du Soleil” takes a more typical blues rock route, featuring biting harmonica riffage and puncturing guitar leads, while the medley “Wrong Kind Of Easy/Nobody But You,” a duet between Ricci and Dibble, is an inspired piece filled with nice dynamic shifts and complemented by more stellar guitar and harmonica work.
The album’s centerpiece, however, is Ricci’s rendition of the iconic jazz standard “St. James Infirmary.” The song begins life with a stirring harmonica intro that demonstrates Ricci’s melodic finesse before his raspy, theatrical vocals come into play and add a horror-infused, punk-ish edge to the proceedings. Then, alternating between biting guitar licks, chilling harmonica passages and haunting vocals, the song progresses slowly before crashing over at just over the 8-minute mark, collapsing under the sheer weight of its dark atmospherics.
Elsewhere, a cover of Dax Riggs’ “Terrors of Nightlife” is also a standout with its brooding, slow-burning sonic assault, while “No Way” is a lively, full-on blues rocker, complete with blazing slide guitar, courtesy of Connor, and swaggering vocals.
Thematically, though, it’s hard to define the record. While it showcases a diverse array of well-crafted numbers, a single theme or specific subject matter remains rather elusive. The album appears more as a skillfully composed mosaic, with each song seemingly a universe of its own, than a unified work with a clear concept in terms of music and lyrics. While I personally prefer it when albums present a clearer thematic thread, one cannot deny the album’s quality, even if it relies on the strength of its diverse approach.
On the other hand, one commendable aspect that I particularly enjoy is the fact that Ricci’s harmonica takes a prominent role without overshadowing the album’s essence. Ricci’s harmonica playing, while utterly impressive, is restrained and serves the songs rather than dominating them. This emphasis on a song-focused style over excessive indulgence results in a cohesive set of songs that should impress harmonica aficionados and casual fans alike.
All in all, Behind The Veil is a strong affair that captures Jason Ricci’s outstanding harmonica skills and bold vocals and the first-class musicianship of Bad Kind, his accompanying outfit.
The Review: 8/10
Can’t Miss Tracks
– Casco Bay
– Cirque Du Soleil
– St. James Infirmary
– No Way
The Big Hit
– St. James Infirmary
Buy the album: Amazon