Ronnie Earl
"Hope Radio"
Stoney Plain Records

I've been a longtime fan of Ronnie Earl going back to when he took over for Duke Robillard in Roomful of Blues and more so throughout his solo career. I've seen him perform on numerous occasions and I am pretty certain that I have all of his CDs. For my listening ears, Earl stands nearly alone as one of the great guitarists of his time, both in Blues as well as any other musical genre. So when Hope Radio arrived at my door, I was ready for another uplifting musical performance from Mr. Earl.

Perhaps I am being a bit picky, but I felt Hope Radio could have been better. A lot of what makes this well-recorded "live" recording tough to listen to is the fact that seeing Earl in person doing what he does so beautifully does not always transfer nearly as well to CD. Please don't get me wrong, there is a lot to like here, especially the first two tracks, "Eddie's Gospel Groove" and "Bobby's Bop," which are both killer. So much so that I thought those first two tracks would set the tone of what was to come, but I thought there was somewhat of a letdown thereafter. Tracks like "Blues For The West Side," "I Am With You," "Wolf Dance," "Beautiful Child," and "Blues for Otis Rush," mostly start out slamming. Yet they somewhat suffer from one of the key components of Earl's performances, that being how he can take any of his songs down to a whisper and then explode his solos to a wild and mind-boggling frenzy. The only problem is that experiencing this in-person can make your hair standup, but Hope Radio does not always convert well as an audio-only experience. At times I found this recording to be very tedious listening, yet powerfully exciting at other moments.

Ronnie Earl is truly a special musician, the likes of which I never tire from seeing live. Over the years I have seen Earl with various incarnations of the Broadcasters literally destroy a room with his awesome power, exquisite tone, and superb control. He is truly a master of his instrument, who plays from deep inside his soul. There are very few guitarists who can, in one passage, make you feel like you are speeding in a Ferrari and at other moments soothe your psyche. Ronnie Earl is definitely one of those rare and gifted artists.

Note: There will be a DVD release of Hope Radio, which will certainly rectify any and all of the negatives mentioned above.

Bob Putignano: