Stony Plain Records SPCD 1396
12 songs – 70 minutes
Guitar virtuoso Ronnie Earl proves once again that he’s one of the most sensitive and loving musicians on the planet as he pays tribute to beloved bassist Jim Mouradian on this bittersweet, but profoundly beautiful release.
A longtime fixture in Earl’s rhythm section as well as a gifted guitar technician, Mouradian – whose grinning image fills the back cover of The Luckiest Man – died suddenly of an apparent heart attack immediately after one of Ronnie’s shows a year ago, creating a deeply felt void in the New England music community where he was based. To honor him, Earl gathered several friends to produce what, in his own words, would be “a traditional blues album of remembrance, love and unwavering resolve to live with faith and gratitude.”
A deeply spiritual man himself, he took the title from one of Mouradian’s favorite expressions: “I’m the luckiest man you know – and I don’t even know who you know.”
Like the release that preceded it – Father’s Day, which celebrated Ronnie’s dad, this one is an understated masterpiece that weaves together originals and carefully chosen covers into an emotional package that’s as mellow and uplifting as it is deep.
He’s backed here by Broadcasters Dave Limina on keyboards, Nicholas Tabarias on guitar, Forrest Padgett on drums and full-throated alto Diane Blue handling vocals with Paul Kochanski taking over the bass chair. They’re augmented by guitarist Peter Ward, sax players Mark Earley and Mario Perrett. Sugar Ray Norcia and his Bluetones – pianist Anthony Giraci, guitarist Monster Mike Welch, drummer Neil Gouvin and bassist Michael “Mudcat” Ward – also make a guest appearance for one number.
Recorded at three different studios in the Boston area, the album opens with a cover of Bobby “Blue” Bland’s stop-time classic “Ain’t That Lovin’ You.” Ronnie’s sweet, deliberate guitar run’s aided by subdued horns before Diane’s voice swings from the jump. The pace continues and them brightens for the Earl original instrumental, “Southside Stomp,” before a haunting, modern redo of Rev. Gary Davis’ “Death Don’t Have No Mercy” with Blue at the mike.
The somber tone continues with the sweet original instrumental “Jim’s Song” before the atmosphere changes immediately with a silky smooth keyboard-driven cover of the Little Willie John classic “Heartbreak (It’s Hurting Me).” A version of the traditional “Howlin’ Blues” features interplay between Earl’s guitar and Limina’s keys before Ronnie and Diane turn Bryan Adams’ “Never Gonna Break My Faith” into a full-on blues ballad.
Penned by Norcia, “Long Lost Conversation” is another ballad. He handles vocals and harp as his own unit melds seamlessly with Earl and The Broadcasters. “Sweet Miss Vee” and “Blues For Magic Sam” – a pairing of two original, unhurried instrumentals – gives Ronnie space to shine before covers of “So Many Roads,” recorded by everyone from Son Seals to The Grateful Dead, Fenton Robinson’s familiar burning blues, “You Don’t Know What Love Is,” bring the set to a conclusion.
Marvelously mellow throughout and available through all major retailers, The Luckiest Man definitely isn’t music for the dance floor. But if you’re interested in bathing yourself in some warm, loving music in front of a roaring fire on a cold winter’s night, you won’t go wrong here.