After battling the demons of manic depression the last few years, Ronnie Earl is back with his first all blues album (and nearly all vocal) in almost ten years, bringing with him an all star cast of players and vocalists.
Ronnie Earl & Friends (Telarc) is the title of this powerful 13 track jam session that leans more on low key and mid-tempo grooves to set the overall mood. It occasionally delves into a high energy stomp or two, such as the album's opening piece, “All Your Love,” that features some blazing riffs and vocals from Luther ”Guitar Junior” Johnson, who is also featured on “Bad Boy.”
Kim Wilson is at the helm for most of the album’s vocals and harp work, being joined by James Cotton for the houserocking instrumental duet “Mighty Fine Boogie.” Cotton is at the forefront on harp of his own “One More Mile,” with Wilson adding fills and vocals, and the two join forces for a third number on “No More.”
The luxurious pipes of Irma Thomas are heard for the soul stirring medley of “I’ll Take Care Of You” and “Lonely Avenue,” in addition to “Vietnam Blues,” which was written by Earl himself and finds some of Ronnie’s best guitar picking coming to light on this tribute to veterans of that war.
Earl is as brilliant as ever throughout this album, but especially shines on the instrumental original “Twenty Five Days” and a pair of Little Walter covers, the acoustic “Last Night” and “Blue and Lonesome,” both of which also find Kim Wilson turning in a stellar performance.
Earl closes things out with a sparkling version of Magic Sam’s “Looking Good” that reminds us of just how gifted a guitarist he is.
Tickling the black and whites so expertly throughout this highly polished album is David Maxwell, who steps into the spotlight for a barn burning rendition of Otis Spann’s “Marie.” Drumming duties fall to the expertise of The Band’s Levon Helm, with bass chores in the capable hands of Jimmy Mouradian on all numbers except the two that Michael “Mudcat” Ward sits in on.
These sessions were a dream come true for Earl, who drew his inspiration from the off-the-cuff jams Delmark was famous for recording in the mid sixties. These tracks were cut with very little preparation and no prior arrangements being laid down other than the musical creativity by all the contributing artists. This was not intended as a Ronnie Earl solo album, but a collaboration of all the “friends” involved, which is precisely what comes across on every number.
This is a great listen from start to finish and one you are sure to listen to often.
--- Steve Hinrichsen
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Revised: January 31, 2002 - Version 1.00
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