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February 2018

Ronnie Earl
The Luckiest Man
Stony Plain Records

Ronnie Earl

The Luckiest Man (Stony Plain Records) is Ronnie Earl’s 25th album since 1983. Those familiar with Mr. Earl’s talents are aware that he has often combined soul, gospel, and jazz with his first love, traditional blues. His latest effort is no exception with some of his most inspired fretwork. The Broadcasters’ longtime bass player, Jim Mouradian, passed away suddenly in January of 2017, and the album is dedicated to Mouradian’s memory, with the title taken from one of his favorite sayings, “I’m the luckiest man you know…..and I don’t even know who you know.”

The Broadcasters, which include Dave Limina (piano/B3), Forrest Padgett (drums), Diane Blue (vocals), and new member Paul Kochanski (bass), are joined by a formidable line-up of guest stars, including Nicholas Tabarias (guitar), Mark Earley (baritone sax), Mario Perrett (tenor sax), Peter Ward (guitar), Michael “Mudcat” Ward (basses), and the members of Sugar Ray Norcia’s Bluetones for one track (Norcia – vocals/harp, Anthony Garaci – piano, Monster Mike Welch – guitar, Neal Gouvin – drums, Michael “Mudcat” Ward – basses).

Ms. Blue ably handles vocals on six of the 12 songs, which include the swinging opening rendition of the Bobby Bland classic, “Ain’t That Loving You,” a goose bump-inducing read on the Rev. Gary Davis’ haunting “Death Don’t Have No Mercy,” and the stirring “Heartbreak (It’s Hurtin’ Me).” She raises the roof on Bryan Adams’ “Never Gonna Break My Faith” in what is probably her finest moment on the album, and closes the disc with the Otis Rush classic “So Many Roads” (where Earl really soars on guitar) and Fenton Robinson’s “You Don’t Know What Love Is.”

Sugar Ray Norcia and the Bluetones join Earl on the super ten-minute slow burner “Long Lost Conversation,” with Norcia handling vocals and harmonica. The five remaining tracks on the album are instrumentals – “Southside Stomp,” the reflective “Jim’s Song,” in tribute to Mouradian, “Howlin’ Blues,” the lovely “Sweet Miss Vee,” and “Blues for Magic Sam.” As always, Earl and the Broadcasters’ almost instinctive interplay makes for compelling, and rewarding, listening.

Ronnie Earl has enjoyed a stellar 50-year career and just seems to get better and better.The addition of Ms. Blue to the line-up is paying dividends as well --- she’s a marvelous singer in a variety of styles. The Luckiest Man ranks as one of the standout releases in Earl’s catalog.

--- Graham Clarke



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