Ronnie Earl - Living In The Light

This guitarist creates his most intense, emotional and passionate album to date. It’s a simple question we ask of each other every day: “How are you?” And when Ronnie Earl answers “Fine, really fine,” it’s an indication that all is well with his world, and it means that our lives are greatly improved as well.

In standard music industry terms, Ronnie Earl is a bright and shining anomaly. He doesn’t tour, he doesn’t show up on David Letterman, he doesn’t play at rock festivals, he rarely gives interviews, and he isn’t the slightest bit interested in what Joni Mitchell called “the star-making machinery.” But he does make some remarkable, memorable and deeply touching recordings, and a wonderfully intimate DVD.

And to underscore that point, Ronnie Earl has created Living in the Light, his fifth CD for Stony Plain the international roots music label based in Edmonton, Alberta. Like his other albums, Living in the Light is a varied mix of blues, soul and gospel, all marked by his distinctive guitar style and the passionate conviction he brings to every track. It is also, perhaps in a contrary way, a record shot through with love, warmth and very real peace.

Living in the Light

In today’s supercharged and often cynical world, Earl’s attitude to his life, and the way he wants to reach his listeners, may strike some as unusual, but it’s the nature of the man. “I see my music as a way to have a deeper relationship with God, and bring healing and love to the people who listen to it.”

Ronnie Earl’s searing, deeply felt guitar playing permeates every one of the dozen tracks on Living in the Light, but there are many other surprises and deep pleasures to be found. Nine of the dozen songs are originals, written or co-written by Earl.

Dave Keller, a singer and guitar player on the New England blues scene, sings two gospel-influenced songs – the powerful opener, “Love Love Love,” and Bob Dylan’s “What Can I Do for You,” which also features a 10-voice choir from Earl’s Baptist Church.

Kim Wilson, a dear friend, contributes three moving vocals and superbly realized harp parts to the new record. One of them is Robert Jr. Lockwood’s classic “Take a Little Walk with Me;” another is a deeply personal song about the Holocaust, “Child of a Survivor.”

“I’m Jewish, and my parents were survivors, and I never met my grandmother who was killed during the war. I wrote that song with Debbie Blanchard, my minister, and Kim Wilson put his stamp on it. Unusual for a blues record? “It’s the deepest blues,” he responds. “It’s a story that needs to be told; future generations will all need to be reminded of what happened.”

Wilson’s third vocal is another song written by Ronnie and the Rev. Blanchard — and it is an open, frank, and personal song about Donna Lee, his wife. “It’s not the first song I’ve written for her; this is my way of thanking her for saving my life, and it’s a country blues. She did indeed heal a river full of tears.”

The contribution of Ronnie Earl’s Broadcasters is obvious from the first note. Dave Limina’s sterling work on Hammond B3 and piano provides a bedrock for the guitar playing, while drummer Lorne Entress and Jim Mouradian on bass are as solid and uplifting a rhythm section as can be imagined.

How the blues touches souls

Ronnie Earl is a thoughtful, gentle man — not always the signature attitude of many blues artists — and it is simply not in him to want to sound either arrogant or glib. “My greatest love in music is the blues; this is my ‘mother music.’ And I dig deep — I have no choice; playing, for me, is a very emotional experience. I put every particle of my soul into it.

“I do play live around my home base in Massachusetts, but I reach my wider audiences through my records, and a DVD that Stony Plain released — I’d like to do another live DVD soon, with a larger audience.”

He is not interested in guitar technicalities; he plays Stratocasters and Nash guitars, but always says that the person behind the guitars should always be of more interest than the instrument itself.

As for defining his style, he can’t. “I’m just trying to get into peoples’ souls,” he says. “I’m just trying to reach peoples’ humanity.”

With his new record for Stony Plain, Living in the Light, he has done exactly that.

Richard Flohil