We’ve had several instrumental blues albums cross our desk in recent weeks, including the latest releases from both guitarists Tinsley Ellis (Get Up!, Heartfixer Music) and Ronnie Earl (Just for Today, Stony Plain Records). As much as we enjoyed listening to the former, we have to say that Earl’s recording may just be the best instrumental blues album we’ve heard. And not as in just this year. Possibly ever.
Starting on the swinging shuffle of “The Big Train” that’s guaranteed to make you want to jump aboard, the band – the same one with which Earl has played for the past 13 of the Broadcasters’ 25-year history – move to a slow, patient (as in nine-and-a-half-minutes) “Blues for Celie” that couldn’t be more beautiful, with some of the most soulful and inspired guitar playing we’ve heard beginning right around the 6:45 mark, also accompanied by some fine organ from Dave Limina. Jim Mouradian (bass) and Lorne Entress (drums) round out the quartet.
Recorded live at three different venues in Earl’s home state of Massachusetts, the album – released this week – captures sounds from the guitarist that stretch from B.B. King and Buddy Guy to Stevie Ray Vaughan (as on the slow blues of “Heart of Glass”), Nick Moss, and Jeff Beck (check out “Miracle”), not to mention the superb tributes to a few who came before him in the lively “Robert Nighthawk Stomp,” the Chicago blues stylings of an Otis Rush-inspired “Rush Hour,” and an eight-and-a-half minute “Blues for Hubert Sumlin” that’s pure joy, as blistering at times as it can be subdued, but always deep, and full of notes that hang longer than even the most die-hard Pittsburgh Pirates fan.
Throw in a terrific piano boogie in “Vernice’s Boogie,” soulful and unique covers of standards such as “Ain’t Nobody’s Business,” John Coltrane’s “Equinox,” and Etta James’ “I’d Rather Go Blind” – the album’s sole vocal track, featuring Diane Blue‘s heartfelt singing – and other originals that include a gritty but vibrant “Jukein'” and the peaceful closer “Pastorale” that, between its shades of “Little Wing” and Earl wishing the audience a happy spring at its end, could easily serve as the official song of the blossoming of the coming season – and you’ve got an album that, for having so few words, shows a truly remarkable amount of character.
Despite its title, Just for Today is destined to become a classic, capturing Earl and his Broadcasters sounding better than they – and many others – ever have.