Ronnie Earl is the recipient of more accolades and awards than practically another blues artist extant. This unique artist and guitarist supreme always delivers the goods by lighting a fire in his listeners’ imaginations. The man never disappoints. One could wax poetic about his majestic tone, concise phrasing, not to mention his total command of dynamics. His ability to assimilate and synthesize the diverse strands that mesh into the panorama of blues guitar is breathtaking and he’s absorbed up every nuance of the stylistic greats, from Earl Hooker, Freddie King, Albert King, Albert Collins, Magic Sam, Hubert Sumlin, Otis Rush to B.B. King.
Earl’s all-instrumental Language Of The Soul from 1994 made me a true believer. It kept me enthralled for weeks as I reveled in its endless idea stream. Ronnie’s latest offering. the ultra-generous Hope Radio on Stony Plain Records includes three thrill-a-second re-workings of several instrumentals from Language Of The Soul, including "Eddie’s Gospel Groove," "I Am With You" and "Beautiful Child". It provides more proof of Earl’s singular ability to channel a vast range of emotions through his guitar voice. That sets him apart and makes him "the man." Ronnie pushes that proverbial envelope to its maximum imaginable extent. The best news is that the combination of a studio audience and a fairly new Broadcasters line-up (Lorne Entress, Michael "Mudcat" Ward, Jim Mouradian, Dave Limina) has added new dimension and layers to these classics. I feel they actually improve upon the originals, while Ronnie has drawn upon new sources of inspiration and energy from the studio attendees.
On the surface "Beautiful Child" is gentle and placid, but there’s a mystical quality that seems to anchor it all. It was written back in the early 1990s, a redemptive era for Ronnie who was surmounting 18 years of addiction and emptiness. It has a soft, gentle Latin groove (Ronnie’s a great admirer of Santana) and the result is pure medicine for the soul. At nearly nine minutes it’s a long-lasting elixir too. "I Am With You" is another tour-de-force that bewitches for eight minutes, but it has a hard-hitting edge soulful blues vein that will thrust itself into your consciousness like a laser beam from heaven. It also contains extensive passages of gentle reflection that evoke the calm before the invigorating storm. He’s known as "Mr. Dynamics" for ample reason and this mastery is self-evident in "I Am With You," which unfold slike an instrumental blues symphony. "Eddie’s Gospel Groove" swings out of the starting gate with electrifying energy, setting the table for nearly 80 minutes of compelling listening.
There are also engrossing versions of three selections from Ronnie’s 2003 Stony Plain debut release I Feel Like Goin’ On his heartfelt affirmation of his determination to tap further into his inner voice. It proved a triumphant return to form. "Blues For Otis Rush," "Wolf Dance" and "Blues For The Homeless" re-appear on Hope Radio and they sound even more intriguing within this very intimate setting. You hear the passion and intensity of an artist healing his psychic wounds through the redemptive quality of his art. Such as on "Wolf Dance," which is akin to a blues trance with hypnotic rhythms swirling throughout, all inspired by the legendary tandem of Howling Wolf and Hubert Sumlin. "Blues For Otis Rush" is guaranteed to send chills up and down your spine. "Blues For The Homeless" is preceded by an impassioned spoken plea by Ronnie for the disadvantaged and homeless in our society. But his music gets that point across more eloquently. It’s heartbreakingly beautiful!
No Ronnie Earl concert is ever complete without "Blues For The West Side," which saw light of day on "Blues Guitar Virtuoso" in Europe. It extends many of Magic Sam’s classic riffs into a shimmering rainbow of sounds. It’s an addictive crowd-pleaser, too as Earl’s performance never fails to elicit a standing ovation. There’s four more impassioned selections and at least three are new compositions ("Bobby’s Bop," "Katrina Blues," "New Gospel Tune’). I only recognized "Kay My Dear" from one of Ronnie’s earlier releases. All this is more reason to celebrate! Suffice it to state, that like everything else Ronnie Earl does all tracks are teeming with emotion-drenched passages and to fully absorb the vast emotional and spiritual reserves revealed through his nuanced, distinctive and remarkable tone, repeat listens will be avidly pursued. And one more thing, let’s not forget Ronnie’s tremendous ear for melody.
No other artist in memory has been able to express himself so completely and convincingly through his instrument as Ronnie Earl. Hope Radio is another testament to that truth.