A presence on the Baltimore and Washington blues scenes for a couple decades, Ursula Ricks certainly sounds poised to break out on the National music scene with her new recording My Street (Severn Records) with blues, soul and more. Ricks brings her powerful, nuanced singing and her strong original songs here backed by Severn’s house rhythm section of Johnny Moeller (from The Fabulous Thunderbirds) on guitar; Kevin Anker on keyboards; Steve Gomes on bass and Robb Stupka on drums. A number of selections feature horns and/or strings arranged and conducted by the legendary Willie Henderson with DC jazz stalwarts Kenny Rittenhouse, Reginald Cyntje and Leigh Pilzer among those heard. There are also guest appearances from Kim Wilson and Mike Welch. Someone commented to me, with the Severn house band even he or I would sound good. Well I don't think anything would make me sound good, but his point about the quality of the backing is well spoken.
As for Ursula Ricks, her smoky and husky vocals are outstanding. Her controlled, unforced delivery stands out in a manner akin to Nina Simone. She never bellows, screams or sounds constipated. Rather she evokes classic sixties soul recordings by the like of Carol Fran or Betty Everett. Not only does she she deliver the goods vocally, but she wrote some wonderful new blues and soul songs starting with Tobacco Road. This is not the John D. Loudermilk song, but an original about traveling from West Virginia to New Orleans with the chitlin' circuit working her heart. It is set against a swampy, smoldering backing and also Kim Wilson takes a tough harmonica solo. This same, tough yet understated backing also provides a foundation for her funky rendition of a lesser known Bobby Rush number Mary Jane, with its anti-drug message. Sweet Tenderness, with its strings in the backing evokes Barry White's recordings while another number with strings, her Due, is an excellent soul-blues in the manner of classic Hi Records.
The title track, My Street provides a gritty description of contemporary urban life as Ms. Ricks moans that all she knows is she has to move away. The level of the rest of My Street is of a similar level. The songs and her vocals ring with conviction and the backing is excellent on a superb recording that will hopefully enable Ms. Ricks to receive the recognition and rewards her talent and music deserves.
I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is Ursula in performance.