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Living In The Light

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Album Review

Legendary blues guitarist Ronnie Earl's embrace of religion and his recovery from drug and alcohol addiction and depression have all had an interesting impact on his music. One would think that peace and contentment would be the death of a fine blues musician — after all, the music is supposed to be informed by hard living and despair. Maybe Earl had enough of those during his earlier life to inform his playing for a long time to come — but it's also true that his current happiness has given his approach to the blues a certain kind of depth that is often missing in the playing of others. On the aptly titled Living in the Light he alternates between gospel, blues, and nearly uncategorizable blends of pop and blues styles. He shines brightest on the slow instrumentals. It's a very rare guitarist who can play a slow blues with real authority, and on tracks like "Recovery Blues" (which also features some stellar organ playing from Dave Limina) and the bottleneck-based "S.O.S.," he displays a lifetime's worth of experience and taste. The rest of the program is mixed, but ultimately very rewarding: he creates an arrangement of Bob Dylan's "What Can I Do for You" that is perfect in every way except for the choir; he whips up an absolute storm on "Child of a Survivor," a song that is sadly hamstrung by a surprisingly limp vocal performance on the part of Fabulous Thunderbirds frontman Kim Wilson (who redeems himself nicely on the Delta-style minimalism of "Donna Lee"). Earl's rendition of "Ain't Nobody's Business" is almost tender, and the album-closing "Pastorale" is simply gorgeous. What it all adds up to is a slightly befuddling but complex and ultimately quite lovely album from a man who has more than earned the right to throw a gospel choir into the mix once in a while if he feels like it.


Born: 10 March 1953 in Queens, New York, NY

Genre: Blues

Years Active: '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

One of the finest blues guitarists to emerge during the '80s, Ronnie Earl often straddled the line between blues and jazz, throwing in touches of soul and rock as well. His versatility made him one of the few blues guitarists capable of leading an almost entirely instrumental outfit, and his backing band the Broadcasters became one of the more respected working units in contemporary blues over the course of the '90s, following Earl's departure from Roomful of Blues. Ronnie Earl was born Ronald Horvath...
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Living In The Light, Ronnie Earl
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