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Ronnie Earl: Ronnie Earl and Friends

Ronnie Earl, a hotshot guitarist who makes no pretense whatsoever about singing, is accompanied by some stellar voices on Ronnie Earl and Friends (Telarc 83537; 68:23). Luther “Guitar Junior” Johnson contributes his husky pipes to tight renditions of Magic Sam’s “All Your Love” and Eddie Taylor’s “Bad Boy.” Irma Thomas lends her sultry, regal vocals to a medley of “I’ll Take Care of You” and “Lonely Avenue” and also testifies with deep feeling on “New Vietnam Blues,” an excruciatingly slow blues co-written by Earl and blues scribe Ted Drozdowski. Earl’s former bandmate in Roomful of Blues, harpist Kim Wilson, kicks in some hearty vocals on Arthur Crudup’s “Rock Me Baby” along with two by Little Walter: “Last Night” (an intimate acoustic duet with Earl) and “Blue and Lonesome.” Wilson also engages in some spirited trading with harp elder James Cotton on the instrumental “Mighty Fine Boogie,” Cotton’s “One More Mile” and “No More.”

Earl’s playing is superb throughout-stinging when appropriate, laying into shuffles with rhythmic fervor, squeezing every drop of juice out of each note on every slow blues. While he has showcased his jazzier inclinations on past outings, this one has him standing knee-deep in Chicago-style blues.

Originally Published