Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters

Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters
Hope Radio

Stony Plain Records SPCD 1324

By Brian D. Holland
February 2008

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Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters’ latest release, Hope Radio, his fourth Stony Plain records, is an effort with a healing power message. Since Ronnie doesn’t tour much anymore, the endeavor is his way of informing fans that he and the band are alive and well.

Recorded live in a studio packed with friends and family, a DVD of the incredible performance is scheduled for release as well. Keep in mind that the Massachusetts bluesman is still a blazing guitarist.

Realizing the need for hope in a world of pain and violence - a desire augmented by a restrained bout with substance abuse and other personal issues - Hope Radio is a unique display of the musical mind of the man they call Mr. Earl. The album consists of 11 instrumental originals and one sleek favorite, “Blues for the West Side.” The exemplary Earl cover possesses much of the ‘taking it up and taking it back down’ emotion he’s known for. And once again, he proves how diverse and satisfying instrumental blues can be.

Ronnie opens the album with “Eddie’s Gospel Groove,” a song that was originally released on a 1997 compilation, titled Big City Blues: East Coast Style. Though hardly his first time in a Latin groove - one reminiscent of a spirited Carlos Santana - this one goes off in multiple blues directions. An ambiance of optimism radiates from his fingers, his distinctive Strat and Super Reverb tone very much a part of that.

In addition to possessing qualities of a contemporary strut, the band gets into a post-bop jaunt in “Bobby’s Bop.” Amidst customary solo work, Ronnie gets into some interesting Wes Montgomery Naptown octave melody and rhythmic chops. The whole band is standout here, especially Dave Limina’s incredible organ accompaniment. The swimmy B-3 sound is warming and exuberant.

Though an invisible line between blues and jazz is perceptible sometimes, Ronnie proves he’s still a blues player in most areas. “I Am With You” is a slow blues that doesn’t stray too far from the mold. But the fact that it stays within the boundaries doesn’t mean it’s lacking in any way, as the eight-minute arrangement strays comfortably throughout fluid Albert King and Mike Bloomfield areas, and it frolics in that manipulating Earl ‘up and down’ manner as well.

In “Katrina Blues,” the title corresponds to the prevailing Delta atmosphere. Ronnie emulates the devastation felt by the sufferers of the infamous 2005 hurricane in a traditional acoustic manner.

His guitar does all the singing in the lethargic “Wolf Dance,” but one can perceive a potent Howlin’ Wolf ambiance throughout. Though audience response at the end reminds us of the fact that it was recorded in a live setting, we’re reminded of that fact only sporadically. Overall, it’s a great sounding studio album in every way. Other than the usual “Thank you so much!” heard now and then, Ronnie gives a little speech at the end of “Blues for the Homeless,” a forward to “Beautiful Child”. In his typically gentle demeanor, one that’s often in a spiritual realm these days, he speaks of those suffering from addiction, reminding us as well that we’re all children of a higher power.

Both gentle and powerful, the amazing persona of Ronnie Earl exerts itself once again in Hope Radio.

Knowing that Ronnie would be the last person in the world to leave the other guys out, it would be a great injustice for me not to give credit where credit is due. Just as the fact that a great woman exists behind every great man, the same can be said for a musician and his band. Hope Radio is, in every way, an outstanding effort from Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters. Though he and the band display an amazing talent for gently fusing instrumental blues and jazz, and a genuine Delta and Gospel purveyance, Hope Radio is all-inclusive blues more than anything else. And yes, Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters are certainly alive and well.

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