february 2009

Ricky Gene Hall & The Goods
Yard Dog Records

Listen, you have to take a guy seriously who funds his musical endeavors by driving a semi packed full of pig feed. Meet Ricky Gene Hall, in his other guise, driving a hot band to some fevered musical destinations. And that ain't pig feed.

Born in 1958 into a music loving family in Kentucky, later moving to Ohio, Hall comes to his music by way of classic blues, bluegrass and traditional rock 'n' roll, but his professional musical odyssey has found him crossing paths with all sorts of roots-centric bands before enlisting drummer/percussionist Rocky Evans and bassist/harmony vocalist Tom Martin to join him in his current configuration some two years ago. BAM!, the group's second album, reveals much about where Hall comes from—geographically as well as musically—and is right in the pocket for those who love blues and blues-influenced tunes done straight, no chaser, with soul to burn.

Appropriately enough for the times, downsizing is one of BAM!'s principal themes. Not downsizing as in losing your job, mind you, but in ways the instruction manual perhaps overlooks. In "Way I Feel," the funky, big backbeat workout kicking off the album, Ricky finds a revenge-minded ex-wife is downsizing him bit by bit—"took everything but the change in my pocket/and I guess she had a little somethin' she wanted me to hold on to"; the next song, "Noth'n at All" (can you see this coming?), a slab of tough, grinding blues keyed by Ricky Gene's stinging, opening guitar solo, our man goes into Walter Mitty mode, imagining all the abundant treasures and high life he could enjoy if he "had it all"—instead, we find he's been a long time downsized kinda fella ("ain't had nothin' at all; I ain't had nothin'"). In the frisky rhythmic strut of "Just My Luck," Hall recounts a budding liaison with a gal who stipulates he reign in (downsize, if you will) some of his bad habits (perpetual tardiness, a wandering eye when it comes to ladies, other minor offenses) if he wants her to reciprocate his passion. In Delbert McClinton's infectious, syncopated R&B grinder, "Read Me My Rights," his domestic status is about to be downsized by one as his woman prepares to walk out on him—leaving him to plead, "Before you do me wrong tonight/baby, baby, read me my rights," a cry given a little extra urgency by Hall's rich guitar commentary and sputtering, moaning harmonica punctuations. In the hard charging title track, Ricky recounts the hard-luck tale of a fellow whose verbosity keeps getting him downsized, from the loss of teeth as a mouthy child to growing up and saying "I do" to the wrong person, leading him to the inescapable conclusion that "silence is golden/talk is cheap/if you open up your mouth you'll be in trouble deep."

Just when it seems RGH is a most woebegone sort, he begs to differ, with searing slide guitar work and a gritty vocal that put a new coat of paint on Jerry Reed's irresistible "Amos Moses," enjoying every minute of the Guitar Man's vivid evocation of the bayou character's misadventures (he was downsized by an alligator, if memory serves), complete with a taste of the distinctive Reed-style "claw" pickin'. And for sheer heart, blues ballads don't get much deeper than Hall's surging "This Old Guitar." Yes, it's a tribute to his axe, but it's no less sincere than B.B. King's encomiums to Lucille—and you can hear some affection returned when Hall cuts out on a thick, crying solo. Speaking of B.B., the album closing "Blues Leave Me Too," a slow, ruminative 12-bar heartbreaker, documents in words, in several pungent, stinging single-string howls and cries, and in Hall's impressively aggrieved accusations, the kind of mean mistreater who's shown up in the King of the Blues's narratives for the past half century. Well, some things are timeless, and it sounds like Ricky Gene Hall & The Goods are well positioned for a long run telling the truth about them all. —David McGee

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (www.johnmendelsohn.com)
Website Design: Kieran McGee (www.kieranmcgee.com)
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY; www.flickr.com/audreyharrod), Alicia Zappier (New York)
E-mail: thebluegrassspecial@gmail.com
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024