Artist: Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters
Album: Maxwell Street
Label: Stony Plain
Release Date: 09/09/2016
I have described Ronnie Earl as “the John Coltrane of the guitar” on these pages before, but this album may best epitomize that term. Earl pays tribute to his dear friend and former Broadcaster, the great pianist David Maxwell, who passed away earlier this year as well as Chicago’s famed Maxwell Street where blues musicians gathered to play outside for the Sunday morning market goers. Earl is a three time Blues Music Award winner for “Guitarist of the Year” and is arguably the king of tone and searing spiritual intensity. As it says on the back of the CD jacket, “An album of traditional, healing and soulful blues rooted in gratitude.” His sound is about feeling. It is not about dancing or histrionics.
Here are a few excerpts from Earl’s statement about David Maxwell in the liner notes, “…We were born on the same day ten years apart. His playing was as deep as the ocean, as high as the sky and as bright as a quasar. When he passed I felt a huge loss, as I still do….It was always a supreme honor to play with him. He played blues as well as jazz with incredible expression from Otis Spann to Cecil Taylor. He knew and loved it all. He became Otis Spann in the later years….”
The Broadcasters now include gifted vocalist Diane Blue who has appeared on Earl’s albums before and here she colors five of the ten tunes. Guest guitarist Nicholas Tabarias has also played with Earl previously. The other Broadcasters are intact with Dave Limina on keys (playing more piano than usual in recognition of Maxwell), Lorne Entréss on drums and Jim Mouradian on bass. Six of the tracks are originals plus covers of Otis Rush (“Double Trouble”), Gladys Knight (“I’ve Got to Use My Imagination”), Eddy Arnold (“You Don’t Know Me”), and the classic “As the Years Go Passing By.” Blue sings on all of them. In reference to Otis Rush, you may know that there was a special tribute to him at this year’s Chicago Blues Festival. Downbeat writer Jeff Johnson highlighted Earl’s performance this way, “Perhaps the most heartfelt expression came from guitar of Ronnie Earl. His playing was a study in economy, yet electrifying enough to make the hairs on your neck stand on end on the seminal Rush tune, ‘Double Trouble.’ The same can be applied to the instrumental tunes on this album, especially Dave Limina’s ‘Elegy for a Bluesman,’ and Ronnie’s ‘Blues for David Maxwell.'”
You’ve probably heard this statement often enough that it starts to sound like a cliché – “Every note means something.” Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters actually carefully apply it to every recorded track and live performance. See and hear it yourself. Catch them at the Pennsylvania Blues Festival next weekend. I can’t wait!
– Jim Hynes