Ronnie Earl, “The John Coltrane of the guitar,” marries the spiritual with traditional blues for an album dedicated to the Broadcasters’ late bass player, Jim Mouradian, who passed suddenly earlier this year. The tone, the sensitivity, and the emotional effect of Earl’s guitar and music are again representative of the three-time Blues Music Award winner for Guitarist of the Year and, arguably the king of tone and searing spiritual intensity. His sound is about feeling, not shredding or exhibitionism. Ronnie commented on the album: “A traditional blues album of remembrance, love, and unwavering resolve to live with faith and gratitude.” Compare this statement to Ronnie’s 2016 album, Maxwell Street, which paid tribute to the late pianist, David Maxwell: “An album of traditional, healing and soulful blues rooted in gratitude.” Ronnie Earl once again finds himself mourning a dear friend and sending up his music in tribute. The title of the album is a phrase and response often spoken by Mouradian, as gracious a personality as you’ll ever meet. “I’m the luckiest man you — and I don’t even know who you know.”
Earl again offers both traditional blues covers and originals but augments his lineup to include not only returnee Nicholas Tabarias on guitar but two sax players plus guitarist Peter Ward, and Peter’s brother, “Mudcat” Ward on double bass and fender bass. Additionally, he performs “Long Lost Conversation” with Sugar Ray & The Bluetones, all former Broadcasters, except guitarist Mike Welch. Forrest Padgett has replaced long-time Broadcaster drummer Lorne Entress. Paul Kochanski now plays bass. Vocalist Diane Blue returns, as does enduring keyboardist Dave Limina.
The album kicks off with Don Robey’s “Ain’t That Loving You,” with Blue’s soaring vocal above the interplay between Earl’s guitar and Limina’s B3, underpinned by the saxes, including some soloing toward the end. The band’s inspired interpretation of Rev. Gary Davis’ “Death Don’t Have Mercy” features three guitarists and vocalist Blue singing mostly in lower registers, conveying deep emotion. Earl continues in his penned elegiac tribute to Mouradian in “Jim’s Song.” Brisk tempos return for the lifting “Heartbreak (It’s Hurtin’ Me) which has Blue’s soulful attack bolstered again by that patented Earl and Limina guitar/B3 sound. Earl uses the shorter instrumental pieces as interludes to vocal tunes, the most beautiful of which is “Sweet Miss Vee.” Blue is brilliant throughout, especially on the gospel-inflected “Never Gonna Break My Faith.”
As per usual with Earl, the album runs a generous 70 minutes, featuring two slow-burning ten-minute tracks. Norcia’s “Long Lost Conversation,” which aside from the guitars, showcases Anthony Geraci’s piano. Earl, as always, plays the right notes, not necessarily volumes of them. The staple “So Many Roads,” featuring The Broadcasters, has a similar feel with Earl punctuating his notes against swirling B3, additional guitars and the baritone sax, as Blue vocalizes in shorter passages.
The album ends appropriately with Fenton Robinson’s “You Don’t Know What Love Is.” Few can express love on an instrument as Ronnie Earl can. Unlike some of his spiritually focused guitar instrumental albums, this strong effort finds Earl embracing his band and especially Blue. Listen up, there’s plenty of Earl’s distinctive guitar too.
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