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Album Review

On Spread the Love, Ronnie Earl & the Broadcasters take the instrumental route in a tribute to mentors, friends, and family. While that might read as sentimental, it's anything but. Earl is effusive in his honesty and spirituality to be sure, but it's only made him a more intuitive and adventurous musician. Not interested in playing merely roadhouse blues, Earl has, since the 1990s, built a steady stream of diverse, ambitious recordings marked by consistency and growth. This one is no exception. The album opens with a stripped-to-the-bone version of Albert Collins' "Backstroke" that struts and swaggers without the baggage of excess. He follows it with the haunting, Delta-inspired original in "Blues for Dr. Donna." His take on Kenny Burrell's "Chitlins con Carne" is revelatory. His use of sliding harmonics and funky Detroit blues atop a swinging B-3 by Dave Limina pull the tune out of the "strictly jazz" sphere and break it down into its basic elements — without losing a bit of the sophistication Burrell wrote into it (check Earl's solo for proof). Likewise is his reading of Duke Pearson's "Cristo Redentor" — a tribute and response to the composer and guitarist Harvey Mandel's legendary version. With that opening B-3 chord, Earl takes its melody and slides into subtle, sacred spaces. His touch is skeletal and spare, hitting only the right notes, creating a genuine blues hymn without sacrificing technical flourish. Another notable is "Skyman," a Southern-styled jazz-blues ballad dedicated to the memory of Duane Allman. Limina's "Spann's Groove," dedicated to blues piano giant Otis Spann, is a rollicking Chicago whomp with killer comps and turnarounds that are locked in the pocket. "Miracle" is a tribute to the guitar genius of Roy Buchanan. Utilizing his inspiration's tone — and a nasty, distorted bassline by Jim Mouradian — Earl takes the melody and just soars, all while just physically tearing at his notes; the song pours emotion deep into the heart of the listener. Drummer Lorne Endress contributes the gorgeous gospel tune "Patience," driven by Limina's B-3 with Earl and Mouradian playing accents and fills to bring out the tune's lyric beauty. Spread the Love is easily among Earl's most satisfying and groundbreaking recordings; it ranks with 1994's Language of the Soul, 1997's The Colour of Love, and 2004's Now My Soul.

Spread the Love, Ronnie Earl & The Broadcasters
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