Ronnie Earl & the Broadcasters – Maxwell Street (review)

Ronnie Earl & the Broadcasters – Maxwell Street (Stony Plain) review

Ronnie Earl has some of the best “tone” in blues today – not just the sound of his guitar, but the way it makes you feel. All of this is on full display on his latest release with his band the Broadcasters, Maxwell Street.

The album opens with the heavenly mellow “Mother Angel,” led by heavily echoed Earl guitar and anchored by Dave Limina’s Hammond B-3. Also joining the track is guest guitarist Nicholas Tabarias, with the two axemen trading off lines, eventually playing together near the end. “In Memory of T-Bone” successfully captures the loping, string-bending style of the legendary bluesman T-Bone Walker.

There’s a sadness that permeates many of the cuts – the album’s title refers to David Maxwell, a former band member who passed away. Limina penned “Elegy For a Bluesman,” and it’s dominated by heartfelt piano, while Earl wrote “Blues For David Maxwell,” which begins with just his guitar, before the band joins in at a somber pace. But, about the 4:30 mark, Earl lets his emotions take over, and his guitar cries out tears, while Hammond organs swells underneath. It’s the highlight of the entire record.

Earl and band turn in an extended rendition of the blues’ standard, “Double Trouble” (clocking in at over eleven minutes). The track is so reserved and quiet, you can hear the hiss of his amp during his extended solo.

The Broadcasters are mainly known for their instrumental blues, but here they stretch out for a couple of soul numbers, and both are excellent showcases for vocalist Diane Blue. On Gladys Knight & the Pips’ “(I’ve Got to Use My) Imagination,” Blue really ramps it up, and she coaxes Earl to rip some heated soloing to go along with her searing vocals. On Ray Charles’ “You Don’t Know Me,” the track is even slower than the original, while Blue gently pleads over top.

While it’s certainly understandable that the guys are in a down mood, the album could’ve used one more upbeat number to balance things out. But, this is a minor critique. Earl and band still have the ability to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. That and his impeccable tone are reason enough to check out Maxwell Street. —Tony Peters