Blues guitar great Ronnie Earl’s latest release — “Father’s Day” — is an amazing tribute to the forefathers of the blues who deserve their own day on the calendar.
Earl is one of the most lauded blues guitarists of his generation and his newest album certainly keeps his reputation intact, while adding new ways to appreciate the intensely soulful music he churns out year after year. He is at again with his sensational band the Broadcasters, featuring Lorne Entress on drums, Dave Limina on piano and Hammond B3, and Jim Mouradian on bass.
Earl beefs up his already top-notch ensemble with a horn section consisting of Mario Perrett on tenor sax and Scott Shetler on baritone sax, which is the first time he has used horns in years. He also welcomes the dynamic Diane Blue and singer of the Nick Moss Band, Michael Ledbetter, who is a distant relative to the iconic Huddie William “Leadbelly” Ledbetter.
With such a large roster of amazing musicians, Earl is able to create a full-bodied sound that amplifies the classics of legends such as Otis Rush, Magic Sam and B.B. King into burly scorchers that King and company could never have dreamed of when they started out playing in the 1940’s and 1950’s.
Sam’s “What Have I Done Wrong” is a powerful number that is punched along by the robust horns and triumphant vocals of Blue, who proves she is always a fine match with Earl’s confident playing. Another Sam tune that shines on “Father’s Day” is the simmering “All Your Love.” Blue’s pipes are traded for Ledbetter’s guttural howl, which blows open the door of the club, and the band takes its time and squeezing out all of the passion from the joint. The horns add a sexual intensity to the track, and Earl dances around like a man possessed.
On a record notable for its forceful performances, no song is quite as explosive as “Giving Up.” Its starts as a slow burner with Ledbetter effectively throwing in the towel on his love with mournful licks from Earl. As the sorrow grows, the whole band swells in intensity until Ledbetter and Earl boil over in a unified fevered wail, one’s pain driving the other.
“Father’s Day” includes plenty of admiration for the blues greats, but Earl throws in a couple originals that shows off just what those legends have taught him. “Follow Your Heart” is a saucy shuffle that features Ledbetter and Blue trading off verses, a treat to hear such accomplished singers playing off each other, and Limina’s B3 tones give the song a whiskey neat flavor. The title track is tribute to Earl’s late father and moves at a funeral march that lets all the players join in on the moving eulogy. Soothing one’s pain through music is certainly something Earl learned listening to the blues.
Earl’s career doesn’t need accolades to show he is one of the best. But don’t be surprised if “Father’s Day” garners the 2014 “Blues Guitarist of the Year” a couple more awards by the end of the year, something that surely would make his father proud.
- Ronnie Earl
Release: July 17, 2015
Notable Tracks: “Follow Your Heart,” “Giving Up”