Ronnie Baker Brooks,
The Torch
(Watchdog, 2006)

The back cover shot of The Torch shows Chicago blues legend Lonnie Brooks handing a Fender Telecaster to his son, Ronnie Baker Brooks. It was a good move because the younger Brooks took the instrument to his heart and soul. In his autobiographical song, "Born in Chicago," Ronnie sings that a guitar was his first wife.

I believe it. Ronnie is the most exciting guitar player I've heard since Stevie Ray Vaughn. The man is brilliant. Jimi Hendrix set fire to his guitar with lighter fluid. Brooks does it with his picking and fretting; nothing artificial needed. Just skill and talent. And, of course, a touch of magic.

In "Born in Chicago," Ronnie takes a simple shuffle and makes up his rhythm pattern off of familiar riffs, what a guitar-playing friend of mine calls the blues cliches. When Ronnie plays them, though, there is nothing cliched about them. He turns them inside out, reexamines them and finds notes, bends and slurs in them that few people have noticed before. Ezra Pound used to demand that poets "make it new." Brooks is making guitar riffs new.

He's equally good with lead and rhythm playing, using Chicago licks, Memphis soul Stax-Watt rhythms and a whole lot of stuff that I can't identify at all.

The songs are almost as good as Brooks' playing and, although the band consists mainly of Brooks' quartet, he occasionally uses Stephanie Bolton to good effect on harmony and backup vocals and allows the Acme Horns to help out.

On "The Torch of the Blues," Brooks' dad and a few of his old friends take the vocals, singing about how they are officially passing the torch on to the kid. Trust me, the torch of the blues is in very, very capable hands.

by Michael Scott Cain
19 May 2007

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