Jason Ricci has always been honest and open about his often difficult life, filled with trips in and out of addiction, brushes with the law, and questions about his sexuality. His experience, until he finally made a turn toward sobriety and found the love of his life who just recently became his bride, was full of danger. He has taken all that dark and ragged experience and poured it into Approved by Snakes.
It is not for the faint of heart or for those with easily offended ears. Keep this one away from kids! It also was not written with airplay in mind, running nearly 80 minutes long, with eight of its 11 songs running over five minutes, some nearly to 10.
But Ricci is a harmonica wizard, one of the best on the planet, and he is not afraid to use electronics to enhance his playing even more, getting more out of a harp than a man should be able to. The Bad Kind are amazing, too, with Sam Hotchkiss and John Lisi on guitar, Andy Kurz on bass, and Adam Baumol on percussion/drums. Ricci is also a dramatic vocalist, and together they create dark, gritty magic.
The album kicks off with the eight-minute epic, “My True Love Is a Dope Whore,” which has Ricci reciting in his ragged voice the reality of the dark streets where degradation rules, and then breaking into pain-filled music, including an amazing guitar and harmonica solo in the middle that feels like it might rip your soul apart. This tale of love, hate, degradation and despair is as honest as anything I have ever heard on a recording.
Things get funky for “Something Just Arrived,” which celebrates the arrival of something in the house. Wonder what that might be? The guitar and bass slither along with the harp to draw you in and mesmerize you.
“Demon Lover” starts with a hypnotic harp run, followed by ominous bass before Ricci presents a piece of modern mythology, in which a beautiful demon crosses the sea and steals his soul and more.
“My Mom’s Gonna Yell at You,” written by Lisi, offers a blessed lightening of the mood. Lisi shares the vocals with Ricci, and it bounces along as it explains just what mom will do when the culprit reaches heaven.
But we are thrown right back into darkness with “Broken Toy/I Fink U Freaky.” Ricci delves back into all his old insecurities and fears on the first part of this medley: “I’m too well for the hospital/I’m too sick for all the healthy/Too rich to be a poor man’s slave/And too average for the wealthy” and emphasizes it with a bit of ” I Fink U Freaky” from South African rap group Die Antwoord.
Next is another welcome break, this one a 10-minute cover of jazz sax player Eddie Harris’s “Listen Here,” which gives Ricci a chance to introduce the band and let them strut their stuff. It includes a touching story about Lisi, who is a New Orleans legend in his own right. After the band stretches out for a bit, Ricci inserts a rap, followed by a tremendous drum solo by Baumol. What a trip!
“Terrors of Nightlife” was written by Dax Riggs. Even the choice of covers for this album reflects brilliance. This one is pure poetry, aided vocally by Black Betty. It is followed by “I Got Cleaned Up,” a reggae-infused bit of biography about the problems and rewards of changing your life.
Now that we’re through the darkness and things are looking up, they get funky with “I’m Too Strong for You,” which is followed by Lisi’s original tune “Disconnect” (about not listening to what media tries to sell you), and the deeply affirmative “515.”
Whether you like it or whether you don’t, this album will move you. Like the label says, it is “Explicit” in every sense of the word. I believe snakes would approve, and so do I.