Ronnie Earl And The Broadcasters – Maxwell Street
Stony Plain Records 2016
10 tracks; 69 minutes
A new Ronnie Earl disc is always welcome and Maxwell Street is another stellar entry in Ronnie’s long discography. On 2015’s Father’s Day Ronnie worked with horns for the first time in many years but this time around it is the core of the Broadcasters that we hear: Ronnie on guitar, Dave Limina on keys, Lorne Entress on drums and Jim Mouradian on bass; sadly Jim passed away after the release of this album so this may be his last recording. As has been the case for several years now Diane Blue provides vocals (here on five cuts, the rest being instrumentals) and Nicholas Tabarias plays second guitar on some tracks. The title of the album references the late David Maxwell who played with The Broadcasters, as well as the one-time meeting place for blues musicians in Chicago. Ronnie wrote five songs here (one with Diane), there is one by Dave and four covers from a typically diverse range of sources.
The whole album is a delight but the two openers find Ronnie at the very top of his game: “Mother Angel” recalls mid to late 70’s Santana (think Borboletta) as Ronnie exchanges intricate guitar stylings with Nicholas all over a warm organ and percussion wash; Dave’s “Elegy For A Bluesman” features Dave’s piano and Ronnie digging hard into his most emotional playing as they develop this fine tribute to David Maxwell. Ronnie pays his own respects later on with “Blues For David Maxwell”, as well as paying tribute to another fallen giant “In Memory Of T-Bone”. Diane’s first vocal is on her co-write with Ronnie “Kismet”, a straight blues with Diane’s strong, almost gospel vocal suiting the semi-religious lyrics and some terrific blues guitar from Ronnie. Otis Rush’s “Double Trouble” has been recorded many times but this is a ‘luxury edition’ which takes its time (it is 11.42 minutes long!), Diane again excellent on the familiar lyrics, Dave’s organ and Ronnie’s anguished guitar centrepiece supported sympathetically by the rhythm section.
Gladys Knight scored a hit with “(I’ve Got To Use My) Imagination” which is probably the most upbeat tune here with Diane’s sultry vocal and Ronnie’s punchy lead lines and acts as something of a break from the more intense slower tunes that dominate the album. Ronnie’s instrumental “Brojoe” is also an upbeat tune, a driving shuffle with Ronnie playing some tough guitar and Dave taking a percolating organ solo. Eddy Arnold’s country ballad “You Know Me” has another excellent vocal performance by Diane underpinned by Dave’s piano and Ronnie’s brooding guitar which sits just behind the vocal when listening on headphones. Another blues classic, Deadric Malone’s “As The Years Go Passing By” closes the album with a final winning vocal/guitar combination.
As with most Ronnie Earl albums this one makes great late-night listening and probably features as much great guitar playing as any of his extensive discography. With the bonus of the excellent Broadcasters and Diane Blue’s vocals on half the tracks this is an album that should be added to the collection of all Ronnie Earl fans and deserves to bring his playing to a new audience.