Ronnie Earl’s new Stony Plain album, Just For Today was recorded at three different performances with his band that includes Dave Limina on keyboards, Jim Mouradian on bass and Lorne Entress on drums. Nicholas Tabarias guest on guitar on two selections and Diane Blues sings on the rendition of I'd Rather Go Blind. Most of the songs heard here are by Ronnie and members of the band although their is the afore-mentioned song that Etta James made famous, John Coltrane’s Equinox, and the blues standard Ain’t Nobody’s Business.
Earl’s reputation is among the finest living guitarists in the blues. That is because of his phrasing, control of tone and crafting of his solos that is constantly displayed throughout the 13 tracks, whether the opening The Big Train, a Bill Doggett type shuffle with Earl’s guitar coming across like a cross between Billy Butler and Chicago legend Jody Williams, Blues For Celie, which opens with a bar or two that conjures up Robert Lockwood, Jr. (whom Earl recorded with) before Earl takes us on through fresh twists and turns. The tone poem, Miracle, is an Earl original while Rush Hour, one of the tracks on which Tabarias guests, is a shuffle with strong organ from Limina before Earl channels the great Otis Rush, one of the biggest influences on Earl (and who Earl calls his mentor).
Vernice’s Boogie, a rollicking, boogie woogie, showcases Limina, while the group give a low-key tinge to the John Coltrane blues Equinox, with Limina laying a rich base for Earl’s deft and precise single note runs. A lengthy Ain’t Nobody’s Business opens with Limina’s down in the alley piano before Earl sings the lyrics on his guitar with shifting to organ. This is followed by the concise, rocking Robert Nighthawk Stomp, which evokes the Delta and Chicago blues legend with some electrifying guitar runs and a rollicking piano break.
Diane Blue gives a first-rate rendition of the Etta James classic as Earl sympathetically backs her strong singing and taking a short solo with his use of tone standing out. As good as Earl is, an album of blues guitar instrumentals can sometimes be (no matter how good the music is) difficult to listen to in one sitting (I cite as examples, Albert Collins first few albums as well as an Earl Hooker label for Blue Thumb), so that a few more guest vocals may have remedied this. Not to say there is any fault with any of the tracks on this and the CD’s programming does try to provide variety in material. Ronnie Earl is a brilliant guitarist who plays with so much imagination, soul and fire. Just For Today is the latest addition to Earl’s very distinguished body of recordings.