Friday, October 6, 2023

Archive Review: Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters’ Just For Today (2013)

While guitarist Ronnie Earl’s enormous talents are certainly well-regarded in the blues world, he remains one step behind friends and contemporaries like Duke Robillard or Jimmie Vaughan in the respect department. It could be because Earl doesn’t sing and typically plays complex, intricately-constructed instrumentals, bringing in an outside vocalist only occasionally. While these vocal experiments usually work out quite well – check out soul man Dave Keller wailing away on a handful of songs on Earl’s 2009 album Living In the Light – the fact remains that better than a quarter-century into his career, Earl’s talents are still too-often overshadowed by younger, flashier players with a fraction of his talent.   

Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters’ Just For Today

While Just For Today is unlikely to win many converts to Earl’s subtle charms, for the hardcore faithful, it’s another treasure from the virtuoso guitarist. Recorded live in a handful of venues in Earl’s home state of Massachusetts, Just For Today features the guitarist’s longest-lived Broadcasters line-up, featuring keyboardist Dave Limina, bassist Jim Mouradian, and drummer Lorne Entress as the band celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. And what a celebration it is! The album offers up thirteen red-hot performances, a mix of Earl’s thoughtful originals and a brace of inspired covers, delivered with all the power and passion that have made Earl a popular concert draw.

Earl is capable of packing more emotion into a few notes than a lot of singers can muster during an entire performance, and his instrumentals are always exciting, exhilarating artistic expressions. Witness the emotional “Miracle,” which opens with a swell of Limina’s keyboards, Earl’s wiry fretwork, and washes of bass and drums. Earl speaks through his instrument and the notes paint pictures of heartbreak, hope, and fulfillment in a way that few musicians could achieve. The jaunty “Rush Hour” is a tribute to Chicago blues legend Otis Rush, the song’s walking bass line joined by lively keyboards that would make Otis Spann grin. But it’s Earl’s livewire picking that evokes the spirit of Rush’s South Side blues style.

“Blues for Hubert Sumlin” is a tribute to an equally esteemed, but often overlooked Chicago blues giant. While “Rush Hour” was electric and raucous – befitting a 10:00 or 11:00 PM club vibe – Earl’s tribute to Mr. Sumlin is pure late-night blues, measured and intense with a nuance and emotion directly opposite of “Rush Hour.” The band tackles jazz legend John Coltrane’s “Equinox” with equal aplomb, and it serves, as sorts, as an extension of “Blues for Hubert Sumlin,” taking the instrumentation into jazzy, dark-hued territory that announces that it’s definitely closing time. Singer Diane Blue acquits herself well on an emotional cover of Etta James’ classic “I’d Rather Go Blind,” showing what Earl and the band can do behind a good singer.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Just For Today is an excellent representation of the underrated, but never under-achieving talents of Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters. The live setting allows the band to shine, and provides the perfect showcase for Earl’s six-string mastery as the crew romps across a set list that includes blues, boogie, and a taste of jazz. Just For Today will please longtime fans and serves as a fine introduction to this great band for the adventurous and uninitiated. The Rev says “check it out!” Grade: A (Stony Plain Records, released April 9, 2013)

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