Stony Plain 2020
Topical yet timeless: esteemed blues luminary tunes into the spirit of things and emerges defiant, if not triumphant.
When many a musicians felt defeated in 2020, Ronnie Earl used the current period to reassess possibilities. Laid down at his pad right before lockdown began and at Daryl’s House Club in 2019, the guitarist’s umpteenth offering is a reflection, and a sign, of our times. Transient it ain’t, though.
One should not be fooled by a tender strum of opener “Shall Not Be Moved” because this serene traditional all but sets the scene for an array of hard-hitting numbers, with titles like “Black Lives Matter” and “Blues For George Floyd” placing the album squarely in the here and now. Still, the two cuts – as well as the instrumental epic “Blues For Lucky Peterson” – sound sparse and precious, rather than angry, which makes them deeper and more expressive. There are riffs on the record, rendering the licks of “Albert’s Stomp” red hot, if lyrical, with a smoldering reading of Lil Green’s “In The Dark” following close behind.
Not that the veteran’s resolved to evade his usual jazzy elegance – a single spin of the live take on “Higher Love” where Ronnie’s velveteen twang is bolstered by Dave Limina’s shimmering Hammond before Diane Blue’s vocals kick in to sway the listener will dispel such a concept, and the barrel-house jive of “Mess Around” will throw it out the window – but the reserved filigree on Eddie Taylor’s “Big Town Playboy” exudes a different kind of class. As does the perennial “All Your Love” – infused with a slowly burning, but deliciously detailed, dewy-eyed drama by Earl’s ensemble, while their organ-oiled handling of Dylan’s “Lord Protect My Child” feels irresistibly spiritual, and the flamenco-tinctured “Talking To Mr. Bromberg” is a delightful, albeit shamefully short, tribute to the great David.
For all these nods to his chosen genre’s movers, “Rise Up” presents Ronnie Earl in his most personal stance: that’s a challenge he rose to in style.