September 2000

Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters - Healin' Time
Telarc CD-83490
Released: 2000

by Todd Warnke

Musical Performance *****
Recording Quality *****
Overall Enjoyment *****

[Reviewed on CD]The blues have always been about healing, whether by the power of the forced catharsis of Howlin’ Wolf or with the gentle resignation and hard-won wisdom of Rory Block. At either extreme, and at every stop in between, the blues heal. On their most recent album, Healin’ Time, Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters must have needed some healing because they take a small step back from their recent turn to jazz and reconnect with their blues roots. The resulting batch of tunes is their most rewarding album in many years.

The 11 tunes (seven of which are Ronnie Earl originals) cover a wide range. From the nasty snarl of Muddy Waters’ "Catfish Blues" to the sanctified "Amazing Grace," Earl plays, not just with precision, but with fire, intensity and soul. The aforementioned "Catfish Blues," in particular, is stunning. After the soulful blues of the opening song -- the appropriately titled, "Churchin’," with Jimmy McGriff on B-3 -- Earl’s gutbucket, asbestos-scorching, scratchy, nasty lead blows out of your speakers and directly into your soul. The other cover tunes, Duke Pearson’s "Idle Moments" and Pharaoh Sanders’ "Thembi," are given definitive renditions. The originals range from the stately, summer blues of "Song For A Brother" and the organ-driven "Blues for Shawn" to the elegant, after-hours burn of "Bella Donna" and the introspective "Glimpses of Serenity."

The production work by Telarc and producer Joe Harley is up to the same high standard as the playing. Tonally, this is album is state-of-the-art demo material, regardless of the fact that it is an electric blues set. Spatially, everything is laid out just as it should be. And the dynamics range from caressing ("Blues for Shawn") to bone-crushing ("Catfish Blues").

More than just a tasteful blues album, this is a masterful, heartfelt set of alternately gutbucket, righteous, meditative and stately blues. Get it to cure what ails ya.