Ronnie Earl is unquestionably one of the most ferociously accomplished blues guitarists around, capable of seemingly endless invention and utterly effortless fluidity.
Yet Earl's blues are distinctly different. Whereas most are rooted in earthy carnality - the Saturday night side of the equation - there's a spirituality in Earl's music that seems better suited to Sunday morning. It's music for contemplation, salvation, and redemption rather than cathartic release or sexual braggadocio.
That's not to say that Earl can't be as raw and real as anyone out there, and his utter absorption and intensity are legendary. But as someone who's struggled with his share of inner demons through the years, Earl's primary motivation in making music is healing, a sentiment reflected in every carefully chosen and exquisitely rendered note here.
As usual, Earl gets superb support from The Broadcasters. In addition to the supple and intuitive rhythm work of bassist Jim Mouradian and drummer Lorne Entress, there's Dave Limina on piano and churchy Hammond organ, while the guests this time out include Diane Blue adding vocals and fellow guitarists Nicholas Tabares and Zack Zunis contributing to a couple as well.
Earl takes his time, and most of the tunes here are longish - Amos Blakemore and Buddy Guy's "In The Wee Hours" clocks in at over ten minutes, while "Six String Blessing" extends well past the nine-minute mark. Both are slow-burners, delicate and subtle explorations in tonal color and texture, as are the shimmery "Time To Remember" and the sublimely serene "Marge's Melody." Earl does cut loose with some blazing licks on "Blues For Henry," a tune co-written with Hubert Sumlin, while the title track and "Puddin' Pie" add a bit of strut and swagger to proceedings. His take on Sam Cooke's "Change Is Gonna Come," however, (the disc takes its title from Cooke's landmark album, Ain't That Good News, released 50 years ago), is pretty enough, but seems to lose the distinctive melody along the way and thus loses a bit of the song's stirring impact.
Earl's music takes a bit more patience than most - he's always favored extreme dynamics, and there's lots of quiet, dexterously filigreed fills to be found. It's music for listening, for savoring and exploring, though, aimed not at the feet or the gut but at the heart and the soul and, above all, the spirit. As such, it's a masterful collection, a few mawkish moments notwithstanding. (However well-intentioned and heartfelt, both "Six String" and "Runnin' For Peace" are rather maudlin and mushy). But there are genuinely transcendent moments, and as a guitarist Earl really does have few peers.
A bit on the sleepy side, perhaps, and far more refined than raw, but Earl's instrumental prowess always makes for an interesting ride ...!