Ronnie Earl and Broadcasters step Beyond The Blue Door

Tempus fugit as they say and I couldn’t agree more when I realised that Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters first album, Smoking, came out back in 1983. He has subsequently released twenty-two more counting his latest, Beyond The Blue Door and all of them, as my wallet will testify, are worthy entries into my blues library. Since then he has entertained at countless gigs, picked up four Blues Music Awards and garnered praise from his fellow blues performers…including my favourite from no less an icon than BB King, who said of Ronnie “He is the most serious blues guitarists you can find…He makes me proud”. I think that sums him up perfectly; he isn’t a flashy player but has an innate talent for making every note count and you will find that across his works that he purposely lays down subtle and ingenious backing that needs careful listening to so that the skill, precision and emotion he feeds into every song can be fully appreciated. He has an uncanny ability to combine blues, jazz and soul into his playing and so infuses each song with suitable sentiments that many guitarists can only dream about (me included).

It starts off in a soulful, almost Motown, feel with Brand New Me. The guitar patterns behind the piano are superb and Diane shows why her surname is so apt. Every element is worth listening to and many repeats will be necessary. After the bridge it gets a bit jazzy too and, even though, not my normal fare it is so joyous and the piano and ingenious guitar solo is worth the entrance fee. Baby How Long is, of course, the Howlin’ Wolf song and Ronnie does it more than justice with his sensitive playing…the phrases behind the verses are magical. The Kim Wilson harp solo entertains and I know the Wolf would approve of that and the way Ronnie pays reverence to the original but injects some ‘Earl feeling’ into the solo. I will never weary of his style of playing, and this is just heaven to me and my imagining joining in…if only my fret skills matched my beautiful Musicman! Drown In My Own Tears is a Henry Glover composition. He was a noted songwriter and producer for the King Records and Roulette labels. This song was actually recorded by Ronnie back in ’96 and I have versions of it by Derek Trucks, Jeff Beck and the Spencer Davis Group too. This instrumental, updated version Is languorous, gorgeous and filled with more superb guitar where, once again, Ronnie shows how to make one note tell a story. The piano, B3 and sax play their part admirably too. The short and sweet Alexis Song is next and features the wonderful Greg Piccolo on a small flute…not really, it just his name suggests that. In reality it is just Greg’s sensitive sax sweeping around Ronnie’s simple and effective chord work and, although slow and simple it still has a charm that lulls you to sleep in a jazz lounge way. The Sweetest Man brings Diane back to sweetly tell the tale, but the real bonus is the most adept, twanging solo this side of twangland…sheer subtle brilliance that is followed by a great piano solo to give this a great depth and feel throughout. Next up is a Bob Dylan cover…I am known as a Dylan lover provided it isn’t him performing it! On the wonderfully titled It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry we get wonderful duetting with David Bromberg on acoustic guitar and vocals. It may be laid back but the interlaced electric and acoustic tones fuse just the way they should. Ronnie proves me right again as this takes Dylan’s brilliance and makes it bluesier and better for every second of its 388 seconds. A Soul That’s Been Abused is subtly sax drenched but still has Ronnie’s dextrous fills and solos to delight as Diane puts in a magnificent vocal of emotion to match the lyrics. It may last over nine minutes but none of that is wasted, the guitar has such feel that I could listen to it for much, much longer and the B3 solo is simply inspired. Why Can’t we Live Together was written by Timmy Thomas and featured on Santana’s live album at Montreux which is where I know it from, although apparently Sade did a version but I probably fell asleep (sorry to any Sadie fans!) Here it conveys the seemingly never ending request for peace in a soulful and has the glides so beloved of her guitar player…except here it is Ronnie and he again soaks every note in emotion. The Santana version, to my ear, has influenced this and that is not a bad thing. With the B3 and guitar phrasing echoing slightly the Carlos factor, but the solo is so good, who cares?  Blues With A Feeling was made famous by Little Walter, although it should be credited to the 1947 release by the duo Rabon Tarrant and Jack McVea as it was a simplistic jump blues before Little Walter stamped his genius over it (as did Taj Mahal and Magic Slim in my collection). Ronnie sticks with the harp but backs it with his trademark sparse brilliance and keeps the feel that Walter brought to the song even through the three guitar players filling it with superb phrasing. T-Bone Stomp has obvious roots and is a joyous shuffle to match its inspiration. It is a mildly jazzy piece, but with that playing the genre is irrelevant as he travels the neck and means it! The B3 solo again fits the inspiration and elevates it still further. Wolf Song is obvious too and this instrumental doesn’t disappoint; filled with more exquisite guitar from Ronnie and Peter Ward it is a rewarding listen for guitarists and the piano should keep keyboardists happy too. Peace Of Mind has a jazzy discord that draws you in and just listen to how, at only sixteen seconds in, Ronnie can play one muted string and make it enthralling. Diane again puts the blues into words and together the whole is a stunning piece of blues. Drowning In A Sea Of Love is by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff and I heard it first on the BB King version from his King Of The Blues album. Ronnie and the band turn it into a soulful and jazzy blues that keeps you in its thrall with sax backing and that guitar. Bringing Light (To A Dark Time) has a neat shuffle behind Diane’s vocals and I have now officially run out of superlatives for the guitar playing. Final track is the slow blues instrumental, Blues For Charlottesville. It is a vehicle for more superb guitar over a B3 wash and it is stunning in its complexity as Ronnie throws every method into a quality solo.

This is the sort of album from my perspective can never be background music; it needs listening to; it has so much to offer that laying back with a drink and soaking both it and the music up is a revelation. It isn’t rocky or fast-paced, but it is chock full of such remarkable playing that it could last forever for me. A definite ten for the guitar playing par excellence even though I wouldn’t play this at just anytime; it is reserved for that experience of just me, my music and the feelings it engenders and the pictures it paints.

TENpawprint half inchdoodle paws out of TEN …

Track Listing and credits:

The Broadcasters play on all the songs except #4 and #6

  1. Brand New Me (Theresa Bell, Jerry Butler, Kenny Gamble) with Scott Shetler, Mario Perrett
  2. Baby How Long (Chester Burnett) with Kim Wilson, Anthony Geraci, Peter Ward
  3. Drown In My Own Tears (Henry Glover) with Greg Piccolo
  4. Alexis’ Song (Ronnie Earl & Greg Piccolo) with Greg Piccolo
  5. The Sweetest Man (Ronnie Earl, Diane Blue, Dave Limina) with Peter Ward
  6. It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry (Bob Dylan) – David Bromberg and Ronnie Earl
  7. A Soul That’s Been Abused (Ronnie Earl) with Mario Perrett, Scott Shetler and Greg Piccolo
  8. Why Can’t We Live Together (Timmy Thomas)
  9. Blues with a Feeling (Little Walter) with Kim Wilson, Peter Ward and Scott MacDougal
  10. T-Bone Stomp (Ronnie Earl) with Larry Luisgnan and Michael Rush
  11. olf Song (Ronnie Earl) with Kim Wilson, Anthony Geraci and Peter Ward
  12. Peace of Mind (Ronnie Earl & Steve Gomes)
  13. Drowning In a Sea of Love (Kenny Gamble & Leon Huff) with Mario Perrett, Scott Shetler and Greg Piccolo
  14. Bringing Light (to a Dark Time) (Paul Kochanski & Diane Blue) with Mario Perrett and Scott Shetler
  15. Blues for Charlottesville (Ronnie Earl, Forrest Padgett, Dave Limina, Paul Kochanski)

Musicians:

Ronnie Earl: guitar, vocals

Dave Limina: piano, B3

Diane Blue: vocals

Forrest Padgett: drums

Paul Kochanski: bass

Special guests:

David Bromberg: acoustic guitar, vocals

Kim Wilson: harmonica, vocals

Greg Piccolo: tenor sax

Anthony Geraci: piano

Peter Ward: guitar

Mario Perrett: tenor sax

Scott Shetler: baritone sax

Larry Luisgnan: guitar

Michael Rush: bass

Scott MacDougal: guitar

Ronnie Earl and Broadcasters step Beyond The Blue Door

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