Despite its rich, more than 25-year history, we have to admit to being only a fairly recent fan of Ronnie Earl & The Broadcasters, with the band really first having caught our ear with 2013’s Just for Today, a mostly instrumental affair save for its cover of Etta James’ “I’d Rather Go Blind” that featured Diane Blue on vocals.
That’s almost the polar opposite of the band’s latest CD, Father’s Day (Stony Plain Records), where Blue is one of two guest vocalists (along with Nick Moss Band singer/guitarist Michael Ledbetter) to be featured on a total of 12 of the album’s baker’s dozen of tracks – including classics from Magic Sam, Otis Rush, B.B. King, Fats Domino, and the Rev. Thomas Dorsey – with the sole instrumental this time out being a bluesy cover of Bobby Timmons’ “Moanin'”. It’s also the first time the band includes a horn section in quite a while, making this Father’s Day a rather memorable one.
The album opens on the midtempo shuffle of Otis Rush’s “It Takes Time”, one of many tunes on which we get to hear Earl’s stinging guitar combining with the gruff, soulful vocals of Ledbetter (who happens to be the descendent of a famous bluesman in Huddie Ledbetter, a.k.a. Lead Belly). Keyboardist Dave Limina also makes himself heard on this first track, and then frequently throughout the album, with Lorne Entress and Jim Mouradian holding down the rhythm nicely on drums and bass, respectively.
The jazzy “Higher Love” that comes next is a lovely duet between Blue and Ledbetter, as is also the case with the uptempo “Follow Your Heart” (revisiting a tune that first appeared on Earl’s 1984 They Call Me Mr. Earl) that comes a bit later in the program and ranks among the album’s best tracks.
Rush’s “Right Place Wrong Time” – with its downright growling vocals at points – is one of several slow, soulful numbers from Ledbetter, along with a simmering, quietly powerful “Giving Up” that really allows Ledbetter to demonstrate the range of his voice; the New Orleans flavor of Fats Domino’s “Every Night About This Time”; a creeping title track that’s as drenched in emotion musically as it is vocally as Ledbetter delivers its lyrics about making peace, forgiving, and moving on from fear and anger; and Magic Sam’s “All Your Love”, picking up the pace just a bit for an organ-filled cover of B.B. King’s “I Need You So Bad”.
Blue adds some sassy R&B vocals to the band’s groove-filled take on Magic Sam’s “What Have I Done Wrong”, and then moves to slow and smoky on “I’ll Take Care of You” (Brook Benton) before helping to close the album with the beautiful soothing gospel of Rev. Thomas Dorsey’s “(Take My Hand) Precious Lord”.
Earl’s playing is, as always, superb, as is the band’s cohesiveness after performing with this same line-up for a dozen years now. The album and title song are dedicated to Ronnie’s late father, with whom the 2014 Blues Music Award Guitarist of the Year reconciled after many years of strained relations just last Father’s Day, so part of the lesson here may be that it’s never too late to make a change for the better, including to start appreciating the music of Earl and his band The Broadcasters.