Soul Searching
"Roonie Earl"
Hepcat Records

Blues Wax 8
Reader Rating 8

Another Great Black Top Records Re-release!, (01/14/09)

1988's Soul Searching was Ronnie Earl's third release for the great Black Top label and also signaled the official formation of Earl's Broadcasters. Part of that incarnation included Darrell Nulisch, Jerry Portnoy, Dickie Reed on keys, Ron Levy's organ, Kaz Kazanoff's horn section and arrangements, Steve Gomes on bass, and drummer Per Hanson. There is also a special guest appearance by Duke Robillard, who preceded Earl in Roomful of Blues. Things get rolling on the opener, a cover of Albert Collins' instrumental "Backstroke," as the band settles in a tight romp that allows Earl to soar. Nulisch takes the mike on the slow-starting "Ships Passing In the Night," but then the horns kick in, Earl starts to roll, takes it down, and hands off to Ron Levy's B3 who accelerates and hands the vocal chores back to Nulisch. The title track is another instrumental; it's gorgeous, so soulful, and shows off Earl's world-class guitar playing, plus there's a great sax solo by Kaz, too. "Jerry Jumps In," authored by Portnoy, is a burning swinger that is appropriately introduced by Portnoy, and man does the rhythm section of Gomes and Hanson ever kick in, with some slick riffs courtesy of Mr. Earl's rhythm guitar playing.

Don Robey's "I Don't Believe" is a barn-burning romp, with excellent vocals from Nulisch and driving solos from Earl's dynamite guitar. Earl's "Blues for Bone" is a slow Blues that shows off his jazzy side, with perhaps a bit of a nod to one of his mentors, the great Kenny Burrell. The album's original closer (on the 1988 release), "Sufferin," also written by Earl, is another slow Blues, which also features Earl and Robillard trading off leads. There are two live bonus tracks that were recorded in 1989 those being "Love at First Sight" and Don Robey's "I'm Holding On." Both are welcome additions to this expanded edition of Soul Searchin', especially when you consider that the original Black Top CD versions (without these live bonus tracks) of Soul Searchin' are going for around thirty bucks on the Internet.

It's really great that the folks at Hep Cat records are starting to re-release some of these Black Top gems, especially Soul Searchin', as this excellent recording zooms in at nearly the start of Earl's highly acclaimed solo recording career and provides a snapshot of what was soon to come. I will be looking forward to Hep Cat digging through the Black Top vaults and making available a chunk of the almost forgotten and outstanding catalog of Black Top Records. And please don't forget to continue to add those bonus tracks. I love them!

Bob Putignano: