Ronnie Earl,
"Living In The Light"
Stoney Plain Records

Blueswax 7
Rating 7

The Instrumental Master Returns With Vocalists, (07/22/09)

The great Ronnie Earl returns and explores different facets of his music as he employs vocalists on this mixed bag recording. There's even a large choir on Bob Dylan's cover of "Recovery Blues." Other guest singers include Kim Wilson, who also plays on three tunes, and Dave Keller for two songs. After a long string of successful instrumental recordings, why the sudden change? I'm not so sure. The results are far from convincing. For the most part, the sans-lyric tracks remain the most powerful. The quirky "Love Love Love" features vocalist Dave Keller who sounds an awful lot like Wilson. Earl wrote this song and it has more shifting changes than a politician, even though there are some excellent moments here. As a complete song it just did not work for me. To make matters worse, it's the first song on the disc and almost nine minutes in length. Things get alright on Earl's "S.O.S.," a slow burning Blues where this nine-minute clock-in didn't bother me at all. It's all ear candy to me.

"River Charles Blues," also authored by Earl, is another good one. It's an instrumental, too! My favorite inclusion is "Blues For Fathead," an obvious nod to the late great David Newman, and this track just roars, needless to say. And not unexpectedly, Ronnie puts a lot of passion into this homage. It is by far the strongest song on Living in The Light. There's an interesting cover of "Aint Nobody's Business" that shows a slightly different stylistic character in Earl's playing. In fact throughout this recording there are several other moments where Earl offers us some new and slick guitar licks that definitely pricked my ears back.

The most important aspect of this disc is that when Ronnie is inserted in his comfort zone, he still sounds like the world class great guitarist that I have always admired. So fans (like me) who are expecting Earl to get into some heart wrenching and hair raising instrumentals will not be completely disappointed. I just wish there were more. The other good news is that Ronnie is writing again, as nine of the twelve songs are credited to the leader of this session.

Guitar freaks, don't despair. I'll bet Ronnie Earl's next recording will be mostly if not completely an instrumental affair. As let's face it, who else in Blues has been able to make their way to the top of the heap without a vocalist? Instrumentally is where Ronnie stands alone, and rightfully so, as there are very few musicians on the planet who can exude the passion and power that Ronnie Earl consistently delivers.

Bob Putignano: