"Philadelphia" Jerry Ricks
Deep in the Well
Rooster Blues 2636
Ricks, a contemporary of the much-better-known Taj Mahal, has pursued his rare muse in ever-lengthening obscurity since the early '60s, including more than 20 years as a resident of Europe. His return to the States in 1990 and subsequent touring activity have finally resulted in his first full-scale American album, Deep in the Well, beautifully recorded and produced by Jim O'Neal.
Ricks came of age during the folk-blues revival and as house man at Philadelphia's Second Fret coffeehouse between 1960-'65, where he hung out and played with "rediscovered" bluesmen like Lonnie Johnson, Mance Lipscomb, Josh White, Sleepy John Estes, Skip James, Furry Lewis and their compatriots.
Out of these wide-ranging influences Ricks has fashioned an eclectic approach to the acoustic guitar based in the Piedmont and East Coast tradition but open to good songs from all over. His light, easy delivery of lines and verses appropriated from the country blues repertoire and woven into songs of his own making brings freshness and delight throughout.
Ricks pays specific homage to three of his personal heroes: Brownie McGhee with "Born with the Blues," Mississippi John Hurt with "New Avalon" and the Rev. Gary Davis with a medley of favorites. Richard "Rabbit" Brown of New Orleans is remembered with a fine reading of "James Alley Blues" (actually it's Janes Alley, by the old Parish Prison), first recorded back in the '20s.
The remainder of the program, credited to Ricks, remarkably evokes the sound and spirit of his musical ancestors without sounding the least bit corny or imitative. Ricks captures the relaxed feeling and wry, world-weary humor of the classic country bluesmen by inhabiting and preserving the same mental and spiritual territory staked out by his mentors, sharing their world with us and keeping it alive for yet another new generation of music lovers.
"For something to grow it has to be preserved," Ricks points out in his liner note, and the talented Philadelphian is doing a fine job of keeping this particular strain of the blues alive and kicking well into the end of the 20th century. Deep in the Well revisits long-neglected ground and finds it still fertile and productive and fully capable of bringing forth another rich crop of country blues.
-- John Sinclair