Ronnie Earl’s stirring bell tone rings with intense fire and the subtle touch of a man with infinite depth to his soul. He’s a blues guitarist at the top of the heap, and on “Beyond the Blue Door,” he’s very much still on top of his game.
Earl truly believes that music can heal, and every time he lays into a set onstage, or makes a record, he proves it. Since he formed the Broadcasters almost four decades ago while still a member of Roomful Of Blues, Ronnie Earl has been on an abundant, across-the-board roll. For his 26th album, Earl and his band, plus a bevy of guests, go deep and wide in both spare and substantial combinations.
Following her win at the Massachusetts Blues Challenge in 2010, Diane Blue — an apt name if there ever was one —became the band’s featured vocalist, a full-fledged “broadcaster” of anything and everything emotional through song. Blue illuminates the album-opening old-school soul of “Brand New Me” with the sweetness and enthusiasm the tune encompasses. Dave Limina leads the way on piano like a flower blooming. Earl follows suit, with the swing provided by bassist Paul Kochanski and drummer Forrest Padgett, locked in. Then Kim Wilson of the Fabulous Thunderbirds steps up for Howlin’ Wolf’s “Baby How Long,” and the music cooks on a more lowdown flame.
Wilson and Earl go way back, their natural way together unmistakable. Wilson is one of the most expressive blues singers and harmonica players ever. Fronting the band, along with ex-Broadcaster Anthony Geraci on piano and guest Peter Ward on guitar, he leads a robust tribute to a common hero. Original Roomful sax player Greg Piccolo joins Earl for “Alexis’ Song,” a twosome of tenderness that’s simply stunning. But the biggest treat arrives in another duet.
Earl’s acoustic rendition of Bob Dylan’s “It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry,” with David Bromberg growling the lyrics in his incomparable style, the both of them lost in their guitars, results in the epitome of a blues song. Earl’s “A Soul That’s Been Abused” appears for the third time on one of his albums, here with Blue all wrapped up in its heat. She then brings both class and sass to Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff’s enduring “Drowning in a Sea of Love,” accentuated by particularly rousing guitar playing by Mr. Earl. So, what lies “Beyond the Blue Door”? An abundance of dazzling, guitar-fired blues that soothes and excites all at once.
— Tom Clarke
- Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters
Beyond the Blue Door
Label: Stony Plain
Release: Aug. 30, 2019