One of the problems with listening to music digitally or even on CD is that you can have too much of a good thing. In the past you would fire up the stereo and stick an album on the record player. Unless it was a brand-new release you wouldn’t play both sides typically, but would choose another album and slip it from its sleeve after one side of a 33 inch. Records were programmed with great deliberation, track one sides one and two were critical, as were the closing numbers on each side. Each side of a record was an entity in its own right.
Having non-stop music from one artist is sometimes just what the doctor ordered, but more often, a bit like over indulging in anything, the enjoyment can diminish and grow stale quite quickly. This is a long-winded way of saying that this particular album is really best listened to one track at a time with something else to freshen the palette in between.
It pains me to say it as I think Ronnie Earl is an exceptional guitarist, whose playing I really enjoy (his album with Duke Robillard, “The Duke Meets the Earl”, for instance, is a classic compendium of blues guitar playing), but this collection just doesn’t hang together for me.
His playing is as cleanly articulated as ever as he recreates the classic sound of blues records from the 50s and 60s and spits it out in his own style. The problem is a common one, namely of a great guitarist that suffers from not being to also take centre stage at the microphone and having to rely on a vocalist. It’s astonishingly rare that a guitarist that doesn’t sing forms a credible collaboration with a vocalist of similar talent.
Danny Gatton had a brief collaboration with Robert Gordon to produce some brilliant rockabilly but his incredible skills, for me anyway, were rarely shown to best effect when confined to purely playing all instrumentals. It was the same with Roy Buchanan. Jeff Beck is one of the few that has been able to sustain a career on instrumental virtuosity alone due to his sheer brilliance, although he often adds guest vocalists to his releases and live performances (and of course had the services of Rod Stewart back in the 60s).
On “Rise Up” the best tracks are the instrumentals. Vocalist Diane Blue has a perfectly fine voice but, for me, it’s just not sufficiently distinctive or emotive to engage with. The melodic feel of the vocal lines are sacrificed for a formulaic gospel light delivery that has the majority of words extended with a ringing vibrato; weep becomes weeeee-eeeep and so on. This has the effect of making each vocal number sound the same, even on a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Lord Protect My Child”.
Given that the vast majority of numbers are rooted in the 12-bar format or have a similar time signature the similarity of each vocal delivery further adds to a homogenous feel for the collection that isn’t necessarily welcome.
The supporting band, long time cohorts, the “Broadcasters” are on good form, especially Dave Limina on piano and Hammond B3. His organ playing is an essential part of the overall sound of the album and he gets a chance to take the spotlight on a swinging version of Jimmy Smith’s “Blues for J”, a number which also features some jazzy soloing from Paul Kochanski on bass and Forrest Padgett on drums.
With song titles like “Blues for George Floyd” and “Black Lives Matter” the guitarist’s heart is in the right place and there is a topical message being delivered, I just wish personally that, on the latter song, it was delivered in a way that didn’t make it sound like any number of generic blues songs.
Listen to any of the instrumental songs on their own, perhaps on a Spotify playlist fiendishly compiled from your recent selections, like “Blues for Lucky Peterson” and you will be drooling with pleasure at the exceptionally sensitive and delicious playing by the ensemble, not to mention loving the superb quality of the guitar playing.
So, going back to the intro, on a selected tracks basis, this is great, but like the curate’s egg, only in parts. I’m sure the band must be brilliant to catch live, where the extended soling must go down a storm. With some decent songs to add some more variety and a different singer (maybe that’s just me though), perhaps a variety of guest vocalists even, this could have been an absolute belter.
Overall rating (sadly): 2 Doodle Paws the album missed the Mark – No music magic felt over at Bluesdoodles Towers
1. I Shall Not Be Moved 2:17 l
2. Higher Love 5:57
3. Blues for George Floyd 3:39
4. You Don’t Know What Love Is 4:32
5. Blues for Lucky Peterson 10:18
6. Big Town Playboy 4:01
7. Albert’s Stomp 4:42
8. In The Dark 6:09
9. All Your Love 8:11
10. Lord Protect My Child 6:08
11. Mess Around 3:40
12. Talking to Mr. Bromberg 3:28
13. Black Lives Matter 6:23
14. Blues for J 6:01
15. Navajo Blues 3:11