Li’l Ronnie and the Blue Beats featuring Claudia Carawan – Unfinished Business | Album Review

lilronniecd2 Li’l Ronnie and the Blue Beats featuring Claudia Carawan – Unfinished Business

 EllerSoul Records 

 CD: 14 songs; 55:37 Minutes

 Styles: Soul, Funk, Ballads and Blues 

 “This aptly titled CD Unfinished Business has been a long time in the making,” Richmond, VA harmonica guru Ronnie Owens (Li’l Ronnie) says of his latest release in the album liner notes. “I believe [it’s] certainly worth the wait. The Blue Beats were a popular regional band in the ‘80s and early ‘90s. This is our 2nd CD that we started recording way back in ‘91. The record features the soulful, gospel-tinged vocals of Claudia Carawan. We had written all the songs and had recorded 8, but sometimes life just gets in the way and things don’t turnout [sic] as planned. Well here it is over 23 years later and we’re finally getting this project finished. This record is a real mix of American musical styles, featuring 12 originals written by band members, plus 2 covers by Ray Charles [“Hard Times”] and Louie Prima [“Jump, Jive, Then You Wail”]. Both were recorded in ‘91. Who says you can’t go back?” 

Indeed they did, and the resulting effort is a spectacular medley of “soul, funk, ballads and blues,” as the CD cover says. The band features Carawan on lead vocals and alto sax, Ronnie Owens on lead vocals and harmonica, guitarist Jim Wark, Stu Grimes on drums and percussion, Mike Moore on acoustic and electric bass, and Eric Holt on keyboards and vocals. Additional musicians include saxophonists Chris Watling and Roger Caroll, trumpeters Allan McEwen and John Greenberg, and pianist John Fralin. Of their fourteen selections, the three below sizzle: 

Track 01: “Bring Your Fine Self Home” – With Claudia Carawan’s voice as warm and inviting as coming home for the holidays, the opening ballad is a beauty. “Don’t need to bring me a present ‘cause you’ve been gone. Don’t need to sweet talk me, baby, on the phone. I don’t want a new car with shiny chrome, but baby, bring your fine self home.” This reviewer would like to nominate this song as having the best female vocals of 2014, so far. 

Track 10: “Stop Cheatin’ Me Blind” – This throw-down, take-no-prisoners blues rocker features powerhouse piano keyboards from Eric Holt and insistent backup from Ronnie Owens on harmonica. Our narrator’s partner has been philandering, and our narrator knows not why: “Did you hang up, baby, or did the line go dead? Did we have a bad connection? Was it something I said?” Li’l Ronnie laments. Listeners will hit the dance floor or die on this penultimate track. 

Track 14: “Warden for a Woman” – The final piece of “Business” is a classic Chicago blues original: “A man’s home is his castle, and that’s the way it‘s supposed to be, but the way that gal been treating me, it’s more like a penitentiary.” Li’l Ronnie provides rueful vocals that don’t grate. 

Ellersoul has done it again! If one hasn’t listened to this CD yet, he/she should definitely complete that “Unfinished Business”!

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