november 2008

Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters
Stony Plain
Running time: 77 minutes

Whether in a mellow mood or attacking with a vengeance, Ronnie Earl makes the Telecaster sing with a sweetness and an intensity most guitarists envy, and audiences gasp at slack-jawed. And he imposes himself on the music solely through the emotion in his playing, when the notes seem pulled out of some hurting place in his soul and take flight as he gently coaxes them into the night air. You hear it on the records, but when you see his body swaying and bending as he fashions some rich, melancholy phrases, you feel it too. The video version of his wonderful 2007 album, Hope Radio, adds a new dimension to the Earl legend, in offering a rare look at the man at work before a small invited audience that clearly understands what it's witnessing. Health problems limit Earl's ability to tour, so this DVD may be the closest many Earl fans get to witnessing a live performance. Working with a tight, empathetic quartet, Earl not only gives a clinic in the artful use of tone and dynamics, but he also allows the Broadcasters ample room to shine themselves, especially keyboardist Dave Limina, who stands out on piano and B3 throughout. The performances captured here took place over two nights, with most of the footage coming from the first night, which offered the double-barreled treat of an eight-minute-plus meditation on the poignant "Blues for the Homeless," with Earl crafting winsome, lonely reflections as Limina adds a gospel flavor on the organ. On the other hand, "Eddie's Gospel Groove" takes the less reflective road for that of the house wrecking soul strut approach, more suitable for Saturday night than for Sunday morning, but an occasion for some spitfire volleys from Earl amidst passages that rise and fall and curl in on themselves in working their way to a foot stomping conclusion. There's no mistaking where the functionally titled "New Gospel Tune" comes from though-Lamini kicks it off coming straight out of the church, but slips in some bluesy asides as Earl interjects a gently crying solo that works its way up the neck to transform the song from a quiet plea to a forceful appeal with the guitar and organ rising together in a soaring spiritual flight. Two of the special treats on the DVD come when Earl takes up the acoustic guitar. One performance, "Lightnin' Hopkins Thing," closes out the Night Two performances (although it's clearly filmed at the same time as the other acoustic number, in a studio without any audience), is a slow, malevolent blues incorporating some riffs Hopkins fans will recognize as they flit by; the other solo acoustic number is an old gospel tune, "I Shall Not Be Moved," deliberate and stately, to which Earl adds some interesting textures by way of jazzy passing chords that connect verses and choruses, putting his mark on the song while honoring its spirit. Not least of all among the treats here is a 10-minute interview with Earl conducted by Holger Peterson of Stony Plain Records, who takes Earl through some vivid reminiscences of his influences and especially regarding the spiritual element that informs his artistry. "What's important to me is moving people and healing," Earl tells Peterson, "and having love come through whatever your higher power is. And for me not to be a bad dude like I was 20 years ago but to be as kind a person as I can be and pass it on to a younger generation." A gentle man of great resolve and purpose, Earl talks frankly of coming out of years of "drinking and drugging" to a place where he's "a clear channel." You don't have to take his word for it; listen to the feeling that surges through him with each note, and you'll understand the gospel truth of what he's saying—in words and notes.—David McGee

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (
Website Design: Kieran McGee (
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY;, Alicia Zappier (New York)
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024