12 tracks/63:51 running time
Ronnie Earl is on a roll. At the 35th annual Blues Music Awards back in May in Memphis, he was named best instrumental guitarist for the third time. Then his latest album release, Good News debuted at # 7 on the Billboard Blues Chart in June.
Early in his career, Earl sat at the feet of the great Otis Rush and Big Walter Horton. He also took a Greyhound to Chicago and was personally introduced to the Chicago Blues scene by the royal Koko Taylor. Over the years he has played or collaborated with Sunnyland Slim, Jimmy Vaughan, Kim Wilson & The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Jerry Portnoy, Earl King, Jimmy Rogers, Jimmy Witherspoon, Gregg Allman, Eric Clapton, Carlos Santana, Muddy Waters and many others. Born Ronnie Earl Horvath, it was Muddy Waters tendency to not remember Ronnie’s last name (and a fondness for John Lee Hooker’s cousin Earl Hooker’s slide guitar playing) that prompted Horvath to change his stage name to Ronnie Earl.
In 1988 Earl formed the first aggregation of his band, The Broadcasters. With the release of Good News, they have released 25 albums. Not bad for a front man who has battled serious health issues in the past. The current lineup of the group includes Dave Limina, Hammond B3 and piano, Lorne Entress, drums and Jim Mouradian, bass. On this project, Earl also employs Diane Blue, vocals, Nicholas Tabarias, guitar and Zach Zunis, guitar. The extra guitars are evident on 3 tracks; #1 “I Met Her On That Train,” #4 “In The Wee Hours,” and #7 Marje’s Melody. On each of these tunes the 3 guitarists aptly swap solos. The interplay between the guitars is passionate, intense and reflective. Tracks #’s 1 and 10 evoke a kaleidoscope of guitar picking stylists, suggesting perhaps, Jessie Mae Hemphill to Lonnie Mack riding that same train.
Earl has been typecast as a player that does not require vocals in much of his repertoire. All the more reason to examine his chops. He is a sensitive, player, wringing so much emotion out of well placed and spaced notes that one can almost see (or at least visualize) the tears orbiting the bandstand. Witness track #8 “Blues For Henry (co-written with the late, great Hubert Sumlin). The specter of Stevie Ray is also near.
The Broadcaster’s do feature vocalist Diane Blue on four tracks. She is a chanteuse with power and control and melds well with the band. On track #10 “Runnin’ In Peace, her interpretation of the lyrical content of this requiem for the Boston Marathon bombing dares comparison to Billie Holliday’s “Strange Fruit.”
Hammond B3 artist Dave Limina channels himself, Ray Charles and Art Neville throughout. Juxtaposed against Ronnie Earl’s attack gives the listener the feeling of witnessing something special.
Good News is a tribute to the artistry of Sam Cooke, whose album Ain’t That Good News was released 50 years ago. Track #2, the cover of the great Sam Cooke song, “A Change Is Gonna Come,” can never reach the dramatic impact of the original, which was released on 11 days after Cooke was shot to death and has since been over-covered. Perhaps Cooke’s single “Ain’t That Good News,” would’ve worked better. Nonetheless, this is a darn good album. The Blues weather channel says this will win something in 2014.