Spread The Love
Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters
14 tracks/75:14 min.
This is Earl’s second recent all instrumental album. If you are a casual fan it may not spark you to purchase. Even if you just can’t get enough, let me warn you: this is a long CD with mostly slow-to-medium tempoed songs. A straight through listen might send you on household errands or even put you to sleep. It’s not a bad CD, and I can see it in a multidisc player on shuffle with some Johnny A, Wes Montgomery, Duke Robillard, etc. , in some quaint little exposed brick bar or coffee shop. I liked Hope Radio (a previous all instrumental CD) enough to buy it, but this one . . ., well.
Spread is a mix of jazzy Strat tunes and bluesy Strat tunes (with one acoustic guitar blues thrown in). The disc kicks off with Albert Collins’ “Backstroke.“ Although this is a commendable version, it lacks Collins‘ fire and authority. “Blues for Donna,“ an Earl composition, lingers at just over 6 minutes, and, again, Earl is a fine guitar player but some of the stretched out slower songs (there are quite a few) made me long for a singer, a long neck, a home invasion, SOMETHING to happen. Earl takes on Kenny Burrell’s “Chitins Con Carne” where he begins to explore the world of Stratocaster jazz--a nice thing. I have always appreciated Earl’s eschewing effects pedals and his ability to explore the tonal possibilities of a Strat straight into and amp. You can’t dig Ronnie Earl without knowing about his previous bouts of depression, alcoholism and drug use and renewed faith in God. “Cristo Redentor,‘ song four, is no surprise then, and it is one my all time favorite songs to be tackled by blues men. However, for all the evocation that Earl is capable of, this one fell short for me--too much Cristo: not enough Redentor. I may be spoiled by Charley Musslewhite’s recent version, but this one just sort of sat a bit and then was over. At song 5, “Happy” (not Keith Richard’s tune) Earl and the Broadcasters transmogrify into a Santana-like outfit without the percussion section. Dave Limina’s B3 had been present throughout the disc, but at this point in the album it really becomes apparent that Earl is a HUGE Santana fan. “Happy,“ “Patience,“ and “Miracle,“ will take you back to Caravanserai/ Moonflower-era Carlos. Although not as frenetic as senior Santana, Earl gets his licks in while staying true to his current muse. And just when you’re feeling mellow along comes “Spann’s Groove” which opens with boogie woogie piano and the mood is gone. It’s a good thing that Earl can handle so many genres of music, but this change is abrupt! But just as we get ready to boogie, the tempo returns to the slower side of things until the disc ends at song 14. Along the way, we have “Blues for Slim,“ a tribute to Guitar Slim; “Tommy’s Midnight Blues,“ a slow and jazzy blues; “Eleventh Step to Heaven,“ which revisits the sort of plodding pace of “Cristo Redentor”; “Ethan’s Song,“ where blues meets Wes Montgomery; and “Blues for Bill“ the aforementioned acoustic guitar-only song that ends the album.
Before the hate mail gets sent, I have been a Ronnie Earl fan since his days with Roomful of Blues. I guess I just wish this CD were a bit faster paced and a bit more “on fire.“ Jazz fans may find more here than blues fans; and certainly fans of modern blues may not “get it.”
Reviewed by David Stine