Ronnie Earl & the Broadcasters

Grateful Heart: Blues & Ballads

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Perhaps the smartest move a non-singing guitar-playing virtuoso like Ronnie Earl could make was ditching the lame singers who permeate most of his earlier efforts and go with an all-instrumental program. On this outing, Grateful Heart: Blues and Ballads, he surrounds himself with an excellent quartet of players with David "Fathead" Newman on tenor sax, Per Hanson on drums, Rod Carey on bass, and Bruce Katz on keyboards, and the results are simply sublime. Instead of a bunch of Chicago retreads, we are treated to a heady mixture of blues, jazz, soul, swing, you name it, all of it infused with taste, tone and economy. When Earl burns, the results are jaw dropping; when he slows it down, his choice of notes is exquisite. "Welcome Home," "Still Soul Searching," "Drown in My Own Tears" and "Skyman (For Duane Allman)" are just a few of the highlights, but there really isn't a wasted note on this record to be found. Anywhere.

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