Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters – Beyond The Blue Door
15 songs – 73 minutes
What can be said about Ronnie Earl that hasn’t already been said? Most blues fans will already own at least several of his albums, the repeatedly high quality of which defy expectations for enduring artists. He is a genuine virtuoso with a unique sound and vision in an age where rewards appear to be most easily found in mediocrity and appealing to the lowest common denominator. This writer can also attest to Earl’s genuinely kind personality. And his band, the Broadcasters, whilst varying in personnel over time, remain a byword for quality in blues music.
In recent years, Earl has maintained an impressive output of material for a man closer to 70 than 60. Beyond The Blue Door is a more than worthy addition to his stellar catalogue, with the focus very much on blues songs rather than the jazz instrumentals of a few years ago. On this release, the Broadcasters comprise Dave Limina on piano and Hammond B3, Diane Blue on vocals, Forrest Padgett on drums and Paul Kochanski on bass. There are also a number of special guests, including David Bromberg (who also provided the CD liner notes) on acoustic guitar and vocals; Kim Wilson on vocals and harp; Mario Perrett and Greg Piccolo on tenor saxophone; Scott Shetler on baritone saxophone; Anthony Geraci on piano; Michael Rush on bass; and Peter Ward, Larry Lusignan and Scott MacDougal on guitar. The result is a superb collection of songs, played with deep emotional connection and recorded with warmth and precision by Huck Bennett at Wellspring Studios in Acton, MA, and Stu Gatz Studio, MA.
The tracks span the usual range of styles that one would expect to find on a Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters album. There are some choice covers (Howlin’ Wolf’s “Baby How Long”, Dusty Springfield’s “Brand New Me”, Little Walter’s “Blues With A Feeling” or Joe Simon’s “Drowning In A Sea Of Love”), some delicious new tracks (“Wolf Song” is a classic Earl tribute to a musical hero, while closing track, “Blues For Charlottesville”, is a beautiful slow blues instrumental with immense guitar) and a few old gems from Ronnie’s past are dusted off and revisited (“A Soul That’s Been Abused” and “Piece Of Mind”).
The album opens with the gentle Motown groove of “Brand New Me” before Kim Wilson adds the first of his three contributions to the smooth shuffle of “Baby How Long” (with great piano from Anthony Geraci). Former Roomful Of Blues bandmate, Greg Piccolo, also adds his always-top-drawer saxophone to three songs, perhaps most tellingly on one chorus of the monumental instrumental version of “Drown In My Own Tears”, but also on the too-short guitar-sax duet that is “Alexis’ Song”.
One of the many highlights of the album is Earl’s duet with Bromberg on Dylan’s “It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry” where Bromberg’s acoustic country blues guitar meshes perfectly with Earl’s pure Stratocaster tone.
The temptation for virtuoso players is that sometimes too much focus can be placed on them and not enough on the other players. On Beyond The Blue Door, Earl has struck the perfect balance of laying down some outrageously good guitar playing whilst ensuring that the spotlight shines on the other players at the appropriate time. There is a real sense of this being a band recording, rather than a band supporting an individual star.
The Broadcasters provide supple, sensitive support throughout that is overwhelmingly musical, while the guest musicians slot in perfectly and all shine when it is their moment to step out. Mr Earl’s playing also remains a thing of rare beauty, with his unparalleled ability to articulate a range of human emotions through his guitar. Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters do not release bad albums. Beyond The Blue Door however is a very, very good album, whichever way you look at it. Wonderful stuff.