Ronnie Earl – Rise Up | Album Review

Ronnie Earl & The Broadcasters – Rise Up

Stony Plain Records

15 songs – 79 minutes

Rise Up is Ronnie Earl’s 13th album with Stony Plain Records and the 27th of what has been a prolific and magnificent career. A genuine virtuoso, he continues to release top quality, deeply emotional recordings. Opening with a solo acoustic version of the traditional gospel “I Shall Not Be Moved”, arranged by Ronnie as a finger-picked Delta blues, Rise Up features 15 tracks and follows the now well-established pattern for a Ronnie Earl album: some new songs; some covers of classic blues recordings; a mixture of instrumentals and vocal songs; a few tributes to Ronnie’s musical heroes and mentors and lashings of top drawer guitar playing.

Earl has always worn his emotions on his metaphorical sleeve and he has been open about his own suffering in the past. On Rise Up, he adopts a more openly political position than on previous releases, particularly in the beautiful instrumental, “Blues For George Floyd”, the fascinating talking blues, “Black Lives Matter”, and the moving closing track, “Navajo Blues”. Furthermore, one of the covers is Bob Dylan’s “Lord Protect My Child” which in the current climate can also be seen as a critique of governmental policy.

The current line-up of The Broadcasters (Dave Limina on keyboards, Diane Blue on vocals, Paul Kochanski on bass and Forrest Padgett on drums) maintains the band’s usual high standards, demonstrating a sophisticated understanding of dynamics, color and musicality whilst providing cultivated yet muscular support to their band-leader. Ronnie has often invited other guitarists to contribute to his albums and on this release Peter Ward adds some excellent guitar to several tracks.

Earl has long been a guitar player’s guitar player and while he may not play with the same otherworldly dexterity of 30 years ago, he can still coax a remarkable range of tones from his Fender Stratocaster. His ability to wring every drop of emotion out of a single note, to articulate pain or hope or despair or happiness, remains second to none. The ten minute “Blues For Lucky Peterson” for example is an object lesson in how to address a slow blues.

Highlights abound throughout the album. Diane Blue’s vocal performance on Eddie Taylor’s “Big Town Playboy” is outstanding. Ronnie’s brief opening solo to “In The Dark” is as deep as guitar playing gets. Limina’s rollicking piano on Ahmet Ertegün’s “Mess Around” could make the dead get up and dance. The power of “Black Lives Matter” is haunting. Several of the tracks extend over six minutes in length, giving all the soloists ample opportunity to stretch out.

“Higher Love” is one of several tracks recorded live from what was clearly a blazing set at a “Daryl’s House Club” show. Also featured from that show are “Albert’s Stomp”, the jazzy “Blues For J” and Fenton Robinson’s “You Don’t Know What Love Is.”  The majority of the album however was recorded in Ronnie’s Boston home while he was recuperating from back surgery, just before the coronavirus pandemic hit the USA. The quality of both the studio and live recordings is superb.

Pretty much any Ronnie Earl album is an essential purchase, and Rise Up is no different. We are blessed to have such a rare genius still producing works of profound emotional depth and power.

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