Guitar tour de force
Reviewed August 2009
Living in the Light
By Ronnie Earl & the Broadcasters
Stony Plain Records: 2009
To hear sound clips or learn more about this release, Turbula recommends viewing its Amazon.com entry.
Blues guitarist Ronnie Earl has been releasing albums on his own or with various versions of his backing band, the Broadcasters, since 1983. These have featured his stinging, clean guitar style with numerous singers, harp players and keyboardists playing a variety of blues forms as well as some jazz-inspired music.
His new disc with the Broadcasters is "Living in the Light" and is recorded with the same crew that appeared on "I feel Like Going On" in 2003 and "Hope Radio" in 2007. Along for the session with Rhode Island's Earl are vocalists Dave Keller, who fronts a Vermont blues band, and Kim Wilson, who has sung for the Fabulous Thunderbirds as well as solo and is a superb harp player.
With the opener, "Love Love Love," it is clear that Earl is the star of this show. Keller's vocal is fine, but the nearly nine-minute tune is a tour de force for Earl, who establishes his incisive signature licks throughout. He is not a blazing speed merchant nor a trickster, but inhabits a spot just behind the beat with a string bend or hammer-on that perfectly enhances the bluesy flavor of a song. His musical vocabulary enables him to slash when he needs to, as on the next tune, "S.O.S.," a long, mid-tempo blues instrumental that features guitar following Hammond organ key changes, and does so without painting itself into a musical corner or becoming repetitive.
After more than 18 minutes of electric prowess on the first two tracks, we get an acoustic cut with Wilson on the mic, "Take a Little Walk With Me." This shows Earl's versatility, as he finger-picks a Delta-style country-blues effortlessly, letting Wison's harp have the spotlight. "Recovery Blues" is a slow vehicle for Hammond player Dave Limina and Earl to stretch out in extended solos. "Child of a Survivor" gives Wilson some lyrics about the Holocaust, incongruous in a blues song, then resolves to a lengthy, fiery instrumental statement. Wilson is back for another country-blues acoustic romp, "Donna Lee," a well-realized song featuring Earl on slide and some burning harp by Wison that is a disc highlight.
"Pastorale" closes things out with a light, jazzy song that doesn't match the other music here, instead sounding like a return to the sound on Earl's "Color of Love" and other late '90s discs which featured an airy, Santana-influenced feel.
"Living in the Light" is nearly 80 minutes of good music and great guitar. For Earl fans, it is a must, and anyone who enjoys good blues guitar playing will enjoy it.
Review by Frank Kocher, a longtime San Diego resident, musician, music collector and frequent contributor to The San Diego Troubadour.