Guitarist Ronnie Earl and his band The Broadcasters deliver another superb offering in this latest release, dedicated to the memory of their longtime friend and former Broadcaster, keyboardist David Maxwell, who died in February 2015. Like previous albums from The Broadcasters, Maxwell Street (Stony Plain Records) – the title of which also pays homage to Chicago’s famed open-air market that blues musicians helped make popular – is a delightful mix of blues instrumentals and songs featuring the strong vocals of Diane Blue.
It all starts on the vibrant, ethereal grooves of a jazzy, refreshing “Mother Earth” that helps cleanse the palate before the band takes a much bluesier turn on the soft, keys-soaked “Elegy for a Bluesman” written by current Broadcasters pianist Dave Limina that, according to Earl, “captures the feeling of the album” and that is as expressive as any song you’ll ever hear without words, as is also the case with the “In Memory of T-Bone” that follows, with its slow, deliciously patient licks from Earl. If it’s “blues with a feeling” that you’re seeking, then it’s evident early on that Maxwell Street is the right place to head.
Things only get more powerful when the band adds Diane Blue’s sassy vocals to the equation on the slow blues of “Kismet”, with its chorus of “It’s a God thing, it’s a good thing/ and we oughta’ keep it goin’ as best as we can” and Ronnie’s guitar seeming to push even harder, if that’s possible. Then comes a creeping, almost 12-minute take on Otis Rush’s “Double Trouble” that again features Blue on vocals along with a few Frampton-like riffs on guitar and that’ll lull you into the kind of blues coma you can usually only experience from sitting in a blues club all night.
The album also includes a grooving cover of Gladys Knight’s “(I’ve Got to Use My) Imagination”, with lyrics such as “I’m too strong not to keep on keeping on” seeming just as apropos to the band nearly 30 years into its history as the lost love about which Blue sings. That’s followed by another terrific instrumental in the slow, passionate “Blues for David Maxwell”, of which keys of course play a prominent role, and a jazzy take on the Eddy Arnold classic “You Don’t Know Me”, where Blue’s vocal talents are right on par with the likes of Dee Dee Bridgewater.
The instrumental “Brojoe” offers a bit more kick before the band closes the album with one more cover, a patient, fulfilling take on Don Robey’s “As the Years Go Passing By” (Albert King, Fenton Robinson, Gary Moore, Jeff Healey, others), which is something you want to be sure you don’t let happen with Maxwell Street.