A lot of people I know have questioned how anyone could enjoy listening to the blues because they consider it to be “sad music”. While the argument can be made that a lot of blues songs deal with not-so-happy content, the name blues is a bit of a misnomer. At the base of it, blues is really a type of music that allows you to confront your demons and grow from experience; in this sense, playing and listening to the blues can be a spiritual experience. Ronnie Earl has exemplified the latter approach in his last few albums for Edmonton’s Stony Plain Records.
Though he has had a turbulent career and personal life, Earl has used the blues as a way to transcend his troubles and use his spiritual awareness to create wonderful music that touches people of all ages. With touches of jazz, soul, and gospel and possibly the best clean Strat tone since Mark Knopfler, Earl’s blues are unique in a world of SRV-clones and pop-blues crossovers.
Ronnie Earl and his band, The Broadcasters (named after the first solidbody guitar produced by Fender), are back with their latest all-instrumental album, Spread The Love, on Stony Plain Records. The album is stylistically diverse, with a little something for everyone; there are up-tempo workouts like the shuffling “Ethan’s Song” and the soulful organ-laden “Happy”, ballads like “Blues for Dr. Donna” (an ode to his wife) and the powerful “Miracle”, and even heartfelt tributes to some of Earl’s influences and blues greats like Albert Collins, Guitar Slim, and Otis Spann. There’s even a great acoustic blues at the end of the album, “Blues for Bill”, which almost transports listeners back to a back porch in the Mississippi Delta. The sound indicates that the band is playing in one room all together, with minimal overdubbing of instruments, which makes for an authentic and enjoyable experience; at times, I forget that this is not a live recording! Earl’s playing just keeps getting better year after year, with incredible licks seemingly being channeled through him from the heavens but without overplaying or assaulting your ears. Listeners who tire quickly of noodling instrumentalists have nothing to fear with Mr. Earl and his “less-is-more” approach!
Although this reviewer does not mind the absence of vocalists on this record (as it gives Earl more space to stretch out in his solos), listeners who enjoy lyrics with their blues may want to sample this album first before purchasing; however, unlike 2007's Hope Radio and 2009’s Living In The Light, the songs are for the most part shorter this time around, so the instrumentals shouldn’t get too long or boring.
It’s great to see Ronnie and the Broadcasters still releasing high quality music and Spread The Love is a welcome addition to their discography. Highly recommended for Ronnie Earl and blues fans, as well as anyone who wants to see how the blues is not necessarily “sad music”.