From the opening track of Rocket Number 9, it's clear that harmonica virtuoso Jason Ricci and Grammy Award-winning producer John Porter are determined to break free of the shackles of the "Blues" tag. "The Rocker," like much of Ricci's songwriting, draws from a hard, young life and presents a raucous but haunting vignette about drug addiction.
The album then takes a sharp turn with "I'm a New Man," a Pop/Rock tale of the boy who cried "Trust me, I've changed." This song and the tight and groovy tribute to Blues legend "Mr. Satan" are both viable singles. Ricci always amazes with his playing, but the songwriting is the surprise here, with original tunes that evoke The Byrds, Allmans, Velvet Underground, Muddy Waters, John Coltrane and even Paganini.
Rocket Number 9 will certainly appeal to JRNB's growing jam band following, as they stretch their legs on a number of occasions, in particular on dreamy "Loving Eyes" and Jazz/Funk instrumental "Dodecahedron." As songs like "Deliver Us" showcase, Ricci's lyrics are heartfelt and often poignant. His vocals have been a point of criticism in the past, but on this album his signature smoky drawl is much more melodic. Guitarist Shawn Starski increasingly establishes himself a masterful player and songwriter with a distinctive voice.
Ricci and New Blood have been pushing musical boundaries in their live shows for years. With this smokin' piece of rogue wax, they've now done it in the studio. Grade: A-