Deep In The Well
Rooster Blues Records, 1997
REVIEW BY: Tammy Childs
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 07/01/2005
Ramblin' with Ricks… the man is a singing nomad. He's lived all over the world, but presently makes his home in the Delta. Combining blues, gospel, R&B and a hint of jazz, he performs the Delta Blues. He bears the name of "Philadelphia" due to his birthplace, but the foundations of his music lie in the South.
In the late 1950s his love of the blues started to form. Lightnin' Hopkins was a major influence. Ricks worked as a dishwasher in his younger days at Second Fret Coffeehouse. But on the side, he would book blues players traveling through town. He observed their performances and his love for the blues grew, as did his desire to perform. "Born With The Blues" expresses his wish to not only play the blues but to live them as well. The blues are not just his hobby but his life. And he says that he learned and continues to learn from every player who crosses his path.
Simplistically laid out, "James Alley Blues" exemplifies that meandering Mississippi rhythmic style. It is slow and free from ostentation. "Empty Bottle Blues" combines fragmented jazz and soulful blues. Neither are anything to cheer about. There's not a whole heck of a lot of life in these tunes -- however, they are elementary and that raw form can be interesting. The blues are about pain and heartache and there's nothing dull about that. In this case, though, the songs lack expressiveness and quality and rate as tedious.
Highlighting the gospel aspect, "Troubled Lord" announces the effort to just stay alive and try to survive -- "troubled to my soul" pretty much says it all. "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" is an old standard born from the fields of slavery. Evidently saving the best for last, he quietly and with soft expression performs this popular gospel oldie. It is seemingly performed with minimal effort, and yet it is more fluid than any of the other songs on this CD. Why couldn't he have used that ability on the rest of the CD?
It is basically an easy album to digest because it gives you nothing, and therefore requires nothing of you. It doesn't make you want to jump up and dance, or even empathetically bemoan your own woes and hardships. It is a lazy-ass sort of entertainment. I personally would like to see more energy put into the music, and more consistency. Perhaps Jerry Ricks is just streamlining his music. He is an uncomplicated soul and his music is unpretentious and simply performed. But unfortunately this often contributes to disjointed vocals that do not always flow in harmony with the music.
Deep down there is still that charm -- the sympathetic nature of the blues that draws you with its sorrowful message. "Times ain't nothin' honey like they used to be….I've seen better days." Haven't we all? Maybe there are better days a comin' for Jerry Ricks. This was not one of them.