Just For Today

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Ronnie Earl and The Broadcasters

Just For Today

Stony Plain Records, 2013

http://www.ronnieearl.com/

http://www.stonyplainrecords.com/Web/artist.asp?id=347

Ronnie Earl, the blues guitarist probably most acclaimed for expressive control of his instrument, marks the 25th year with his Broadcasters with a new live album. Just For Today, recorded at three Massachusetts venues, shows much of the unit’s scope as the combo runs through a set of shuffles, slow blues, jazz, Broadcasters music, and soul ballads.

Soul and tone, two qualities often identified in Earl’s music, are abundantly present in every note played. Consider Earl’s composition “Blues For Celie.” On this slow blues, he takes a languid first few choruses, outlining ideas in chords and single notes with subtle tonal shifts. The number has no head to speak of, but Earl maintains thematic unity as the lines flow, and explores  every variation in intensity, from whisper-quiet musings to a stirring climax.

“The Big Train” simply cooks. Earl’s lead work alternates short, vocal phrases with longer lines that spill across measures, employing hammered-on double-stops and soaring, bent notes. Dave Limina’s Hammond B3 fills out the sound with a great touch and splendid tone, whether he is comping behind Earl or delivering an ovation-worthy chord solo. The tune hangs on a simple riff, and is taken at an unhurried pace, yet the way Lorne Entress (drums) and Jim Mouradian (bass) and play together creates a perfect, unstoppable momentum. It’s hard to tell whether the false ending was planned, or if Ronnie was digging the groove so much that, in the heat of the moment, he felt compelled to lead the combo through another round.

Earl takes a couple of fine choruses on “Vernice’s Boogie,” but this rollicking piano boogie-woogie is Limina’s show. An old Earl favorite, the hard-driving “Robert Nighthawk Stomp,” also features strong 88s, as well as an ear-grabbing, very neatly phrased Earl solo that very briefly quotes “Smokestack Lightnin’.” Limina’s extended introduction to “Ain’t Nobody’s Business” is likewise played on the ivories, though he shifts to the organ once Earl steps in to outline his take on the melody, coaxing from his guitar the sweetest lines imaginable.

The moving reading of John Coltrane’s “Equinox” suggests that it is a favorite of the band: Limina and Earl turn in lovely solos over a subdued, Latin-inspired groove. “Pastorale,” “Miracle,” and “Heart Of Glass,” round out the setlist. These three songs, examples of what I earlier called Broadcasters music, are not formally blues in their chord structure; their melodic content is likewise more sophisticated than traditional blues tends to be. Not exactly jazz, and surely not rock, they are akin to tone poems that give Earl a chance to express himself in different contexts.

“Blues For Hubert Sumlin” is a purely wonderful slow blues with a long, hushed middle section that gives Earl’s bent notes, conversational phrasing, and skittering lines center stage, before bringing things to a boil. In the end, it matters little that the song offers nothing that much recalls Hubert’s highly idiosyncratic playing. Similarly, on “Rush Hour,” a thrilling, mid-tempo box shuffle intended as a tribute to Otis Rush, Earl’s ideas sound more like his own, a few backward rakes across the strings notwithstanding, than they do the great southpaw’s. The band’s powerful swagger on “Jukein’” inspires Earl and Limina to special heights. To these ears, it is the best track here for spirit, rhythmic creativity, and tonal exploration. That intensity carries over into the oft-covered Etta James classic “I’d Rather Go Blind,” here sung creditably by Diane Blue. Earl does a superb, Steve Cropper-esque job of gilding his solid rhythm arpeggios with interesting fills, and his lead break is a model of tone and taste, saying a great deal with very simple materials.

Such communication is the essence of this kind of music, and no one does it better than Ronnie Earl. The current Broadcasters lineup, consisting of veterans who have played together for some time, is confident and comfortable, yet such is their skill and heart that they never sound dispassionate or uninspired. Long instrumental programs are not everyone’s cup of tea, and even Earl’s most ardent fans have sometimes, probably justifiably, felt that they have heard him do it all before. But Just For Today sustains an exceptionally high level of engagement, excitement, and emotion. Ronnie Earl and The Broadcasters have produced an anniversary gift that is little short of amazing.

TOM HYSLOP

Review copy provided by Mark Pucci Media

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Hillbilly Boogie Surfin’ Blues

HBSB

Don Leady

Hillbilly Boogie Surfin’ Blues

http://donleady.com/

www.thetailgators.com/

Don Leady, a founding member of Austin, Texas’s Leroi Brothers, may be best known for his next gig, as front man for the roots-rocking trio The Tail Gators. The original Tail Gators–Leady, Gary “Mud Cat” Smith (drums), and the legendary Keith Ferguson (electric bass)–served up an incredible, one-of-a-kind mish-mash of blues, surf, Cajun, country, Tex-Mex, soul, and rockabilly (among other flavors), and were the band to beat for low-down Americana. It’s been more than a decade and a half since the Tail Gators waxed their seventh and last long-player, It’s A Hog Groove, in 1996, so what a delight it was to discover Don Leady’s new Facebook page and to learn that he has just issued a solo CD to satisfy our cravings for dirty guitar instrumentals.

At just under half an hour’s running time, the appropriately-titled Hillbilly Boogie Surfin’ Blues is short but ever so sweet. Backed alternately by Art Kidd and Nico on drums, and playing all the guitar and bass parts himself, Leady picks up where he left off with the Tail Gators, laying down a dozen cuts of prime–and primal–roots music.  An instrumental trio more than suffices; Leady, a modern-day Don Rich, never even breaks out his fiddle, instead choosing to draw on a dizzying palette of picking and stylistic approaches on his guitar, and to employ a range of across-the-board great tones.

There’s nothing here not to like. The set opens with the charging “Bull Doggin’ Boogie.” Also on the country side of things are “Ice Cream Star,” a fast instrumental of Albert Lee-like precision with a basic boogie section in the middle to cool things down a bit, and the hammer-and-pull-a-thon “Hillbilly Blues,” in which Leady dials in a tone of steel guitar-like clarity. “Thunder And Lightning,” which closes the album, comes out of the same acrobatic bag.

The mid-tempo “Texas Dance Hall Blues” splits the difference between country and blues with panache, and delivers a few off-the-wall surprises worthy of the old Speedy West and Jimmy Bryant sides. If you yearn for pure blues, check out Leady’s cover of the Lightnin’ Hopkins chestnut “Lightnin’s Boogie”; his swinging “Fat Wolf Blues,” with its “Dust My Broom” quotation, tricky syncopations, and high-wire soloing; and the wonderfully wobbly “Slo Bo,” which plays expertly with some of Bo Diddley’s patented Latin-influenced rhythms (but not his famed hambone beat) and tricky chordal lead work.

Leady has a knack for creating moods that are almost tangible. The swamp pop confection “Louisiana Feeling” is achingly, last-dance sweet. Check out Leady’s (reverb) tanked-up frolic, “Echo Surf Boogie,” with its nods to both the California-bred surf styles and to the UK guitar hero Hank Marvin, or his tom tom-driven tribute to the garage rockin’ master, Link Wray, in “Crazy Link.” The Western epic “Ride Of The Ruthless,” originally recorded for the Big Guitars From Texas compilation back in the day, is practically cinematic in its drama and immediacy.

Talk of the Big Guitars series brings to mind a fitting description for Leady’s music: Trash, Twang, and Thunder. If you were a Tail Gators fan back in the day, I suspect you stopped reading some time ago, for at least long enough to track down and order a copy of Hillbilly Boogie Surfin’ Blues. If you are new to the guitar stylings of Don Leady, I can make only this recommendation: Get it if you ain’t got it! It is pure dynamite.

TOM HYSLOP

Review copy was purchased from http://www.cdbaby.com/