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Guitarist Ronnie Earl's realization that you don't need a vocalist to sing the blues freed him up to roam across the vernacular music landscape, dipping into jazz, gospel, and soul, and has made him one of the most innovative and interesting musicians working in contemporary blues. It's hardly a radical step, since scores of jazz musicians have been mining the blues for 80 years without vocalists, and in Earl's case it was a natural shift -- maybe even an obvious one given that he has often cited John Coltrane as a predominant influence. On Now My Soul, his second release from Stony Plain Records, Earl moves a bit back to neutral ground on the vocal issue, with roughly half the tracks featuring singing from either Kim Wilson or Greg Piccolo, and one track, the delightful "Walkin on the Sea," showcases the Silver Leaf Gospel Singers. But the instrumental pieces are the most powerful, allowing Earl's inherent jazz sensibilities to surface, and as an ensemble player, he shines. The album opener, Jimmy Smith's "Blues for J," does a masterful job of capturing Smith's easy-grooving sense of the blues (Dave Limina handles the B-3 duties here), and Piccolo's tenor sax pairs nicely with Earl's guitar for a track that shows nicely how much joy can reside inside the blues. "Kay My Dear" visits the same territory, only in darker hues, and when the Silver Leaf Gospel Singers hit with "Walkin on the Sea," one is reminded that the blues is really more about releasing what haunts us than it is about bottling things up in a primal moan-and-groan session. Of the vocal pieces, a cover of Otis Rush's "Double Trouble" works best, with Wilson's singing and ghostly harmonica runs slipping in and out of a wonderfully ominous and atmospheric soundscape. An untitled 13th track finds Earl sincerely thanking God, friends, and fans for the privilege of playing, and it touches on his battles with manic depression, diabetes, and chronic fatigue syndrome. Perhaps that's what comes through in the best moments on this album -- that sense of joyous deliverance Earl's guitar playing reaches when the blues becomes a vehicle of release and transcendence and he takes himself (and his audience) to a place where the pain drops away. In the end, the blues isn't about pain at all. It's about what resides (to quote Blind Willie Johnson) in the soul of a man, and what he chooses to do with it. For that you really don't need words.
|Label:||Stony Plain Music|
Performance CreditsRonnie Earl Primary Artist,Guitar
Kim Wilson Harmonica,Vocals
Rod Carey Bass
Lorne Entress Drums
Greg Piccolo Vocals
Jose Alvarez Guitar
Dave Limina Organ,Piano
Jimmy Mouradian Bass
Silver Leaf Gospel Singers Vocals
Technical CreditsRonnie Earl Composer,Producer,Liner Notes,Audio Production
Big Walter Horton Composer
Lorne Entress Composer,Audio Production
Holger Petersen Executive Producer
Otis Rush Composer
Jimmy Smith Composer
Huck Bennert Engineer
Dave Limina Composer
Jimmy Mouradian Composer