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Music Review: Ronnie Earl and The Broadcasters – Spread The Love

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Ronnie Earl has seen his share of troubles over the years. He’s suffered from both addiction and depression, and these days he doesn’t tour, preferring instead to lead a simple, spiritual life filled with love and hope. Most of his recent recordings have been primarily instrumental affairs – he doesn’t sing, and as a songwriter, his lyrics have never been terribly strong. He’s a guitarist of exceptional prowess, though, able to keep extended jams interesting through the sheer artistry and intensity of his fretwork. Earl clearly finds solace in his music, and is determined to Spread The Love with his latest outing for venerable Stony Plain Records.

Spread The Love contains fourteen tracks, most written by Earl, with one each from drummer Lorne Entress and Dave Limina (piano and B3). Covers include Albert Collins’ “Backstroke” (a tune Ronnie cut once before for his Soul Searching disc), Kenny Burrell’s “Chitlins Con Carne” (a favorite of the late Stevie Ray Vaughan), and a stunning take on Duke Pearson’s “Christo Redentor.”

Earl firmly believes in the healing power of music, hence titles like “Happy,” “Miracle,” and “Eleventh Step To Heaven.” He also has a penchant for writing tribute tunes – witness “Blues For Dr. Donna,” “Skyman” (dedicated to Duane Allman), “Blues For Slim” (Guitar Slim, aka Eddie Jones), “Ethan’s Song,” and “Blues For Bill,” a relatively rare workout on acoustic guitar. While his music is always firmly rooted in the blues, jazz and gospel inform Earl’s work in equal measure – Spread The Love is more of an instrumental collection than a blues disc, but Earl’s vision and conviction hold it all together.

And while cynics might see his message of love and forgiveness as somewhat simplistic, there’s no denying the power and beauty of Earl’s guitar work. Whether he’s delivering crunching chords or ripping out dazzling flurries with dizzying ease, he exhibits absolute mastery of his instrument. The current version of The Broadcasters, together for a number of years now, are equally adept, following Earl’s lead with exceptionally supple support. Bassist Jim Mouradian and drummer Lorne Entress are telepathically tight, and Dave Limina’s work on the B3 is exemplary, with a rich, churchy sound perfectly in keeping with Earl’s instrumental extrapolations – moody and evocative yet invariably uplifting, even on the quieter, meditative numbers.

Earl’s last few releases have occasionally been bogged down by excessive earnestness; stellar playing, but not much fun to listen to. And he’s tended to overwork dynamics, with whisper-quiet passages that distracted from the music’s flow. No such problems here, though – his music remains intensely personal, but gone is the sense that it’s a tool through which he’s working out his demons. He’s not exactly the life of the party, but there’s a feeling here that he’s once again finding, if not joy, at least a sense of fulfillment in his music. Spread The Love may lean a bit more to contemplative ruminations rather than blazing blues workouts, but it’s a thoroughly enjoyable and satisfying listen. And Earl remains, hands down, one of the finest guitarists around, endlessly inventive and possessed of breathtaking technical ability that never gets in the way of sheer feel – he can dazzle indeed, but it’s always about the emotional core of the song, not the notes themselves.

Spread The Love may well be Earl’s best yet. Highly recommended!

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About John Taylor

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/josh-hathaway Josh Hathaway

    John, enjoyed your review and enjoying the disc. I’m working up one of my own. We’ll have to compare notes.

    “Skyman” is also a repeater (from Grateful Heart) and a beautiful song.

    Ronnie Earl is the Minister of Tone. There are things other guitarists do better than Earl (not many) but no one touches him on tone. No one.

  • John Taylor

    No question Earl is one of the finest guitarists around. His last couple of discs have been kind of hard to listen to, though – the last being a bit too much like his own twelve-step program to be worked through. This one’s no less intense but much more enjoyable … he seems to have found at least some peace, and the music is somehow purer for it.
    Just my own humble opinion …

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/josh-hathaway Josh Hathaway

    The last album was a little tough with the roving cast of singers and you’re right about lyrically there being some weak moments. A lot of it did read like an adaptation of the 12-step program. That he is so sincere about it all made up for some of that but the album just wasn’t all that enjoyable. The instrumentals were still great but there were portions of it that were just kind of tough. ‘Hope Radio’ was great, though. It was a live, all-instrumental set and I love that. “Wolf Dance” and “Blues For Otis Rush” are both among his best.

    Back to this new one, it feels much less heavyhanded and that’s a welcome development. There’s a song called “Happy” and he’s not being ironic about it. I’m very pleased with this record. I’ve been listening to a ton of Earl’s older discs this past month or so and while this one may not go to the top of that pile it will certainly fall in with the good ones.