I first saw Ronnie Earl (Horvath) in 1978 when he was the guitarist with Sugar Ray & the Bluetones where they were backing J.B. Hutto at a New York club. At that time I bought an EP which included his rendition of some Earl Hooker number and his wonderful way with a guitar was evident then. In the years since he had a stint with Roomful of Blues before starting his own group, Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters, initially with vocalists, but increasingly oriented towards a straight instrumental focus. At the same time he collaborated on numerous recordings with a variety of blues greats and had such as Robert Lockwood guest on his own recordings. He is a dazzling guitarist who plays with a voice-like tone and can evoke mentors like Lockwood, Albert Collins and Guitar Slim while also displaying his awareness of the lessons of Grant green, Kenny Burrell and Wes Montgomery. I would be hard-pressed to think of another guitarist than can play straight blues, straight jazz and them a mix of the two that is so completely unforced, natural sounding.
His latest recording with the Broadcasters, “Spread the Love” (Stony Plain), was recorded in March 2010 with Dave Limina on keyboards, Jim Mouradian on bass and Lorne Entress on drums with Paul Kochanski playing bass on a couple selections, and Tim O’Connor and Jason James playing on “Blues For Slim.” From the opening moments of his take on Albert Collins’ “Backstroke,” to the last lingering country blues styled licks on “Blues For Bill,” one can be dazzled by Earl’s virtuosity yet soothed by his taste and soulfulness. “Blues For Donna” seems inspired by Lightnin’ Hopkins and one can almost Hopkins or Lowell Fulson singing “Lord have mercy, forgive me for my sins,” against his playing as he well spin of a cluster of notes and then a chord and a few riffs. His playing exhibits awareness of the lesson that Albert king that the silence and space between the notes say as much as what one plays.
Kenny Burrell’s “Chitlins’ Con Carne,” is given a lively reading with Limina sounding quite nice on organ and then followed by a moving version of Duke Pearson’s “Christo Redentor,” that was first on a Donald Byrd album. Blues fans will know of this from Charlie Musselwhite, but Earl is really wonderful here with his guitar sounding vocalized here against Lumina’s deep organ backing. This is a rendition that will certainly join the others as a classic performance. The trio of instrumentals, “Happy,” “patience,” and “Miracle,” are marvelous tone poems, followed by Lumina’s rollicking “Spann’s Groove,” which he sets the tone on piano playing some boogie-laced piano before Earl enters with responsive, rocking riffs and complimentary chords and then takes off with some explosive playing. My favorite blues instrumental here is “Blues For Slim,” which Earl builds upon the foundation that Eddie ‘Guitar Slim’ Jones, provide for “Things I Used To Do,” and while he evokes Slim’s playing, it is as inspiration as opposed to simply copying. Earl also gives Jones co-composing credits here.
Ronnie Earl can takes us from the alley up into the heavens with his playing. He can play with grit yet touch us in our hearts and soothe our minds. As Earl’s friend, Rev. Deborah J. Blanchard, states about when Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters play, they “spread the love when their soulful notes brush the hearts of all of us who gather to listen and receive.” The level of Ronnie Earl’s recordings is generally of such a consistently high level and the superb “Spread the Love,” is simply the latest demonstration of this.
Per FTC requirements, I received the review copy from the firm handling publicity for Stony Plain Records’