Ronnie Earl,
Healing Time
(Telarc, 2000)

If you're in a blues-induced funk because you haven't heard any great blues/jazz lately, Ronnie Earl has the remedy with this CD. Earl, who played for eight years with Roomful of Blues, and then with his own band, The Broadcasters, adds to his string of fine solo albums with Healing Time, for which he joins forces with Hammond B-3 organ wizard Jimmy McGriff, Anthony Geraci on keyboards, Michael "Mudcat" Ward on bass, and Mark Greenberg and Don Williams trading off on drums and percussion.

"Churchin'" hits a nice blues groove right out of the gate. It's a McGriff original, and Jimmy solos like the tune is indeed his own. Earl, a guitarist of many sounds, is nice and laid-back on this one. He shows his down and dirty side with his introductory solo on "Catfish Blues," blending the best of Chicago and delta style. "Idle Moments" slips into the jazz vein with a slow, majestic, and thoughtful blues, great for late night contemplation.

The band taps an Afro-Cuban vein in Pharoah Sanders' "Thembi." There's some nice piano work by Geraci, and Earl makes his guitar sound almost like a fiddle on this one. "Blues for Shawn" follows. It's slow, deep, sensitive and meaningful, with some underlying B-3 work that provides a haunting presence. Even more contemplative is "Glimpses of Serenity," a fairly blues-free jazz number, slow and dreamy.

We're back to straight-out Chicago blues with "Lunch at R&M's," which boasts a flaming guitar/B-3 duet. "Song for a Brother" offers up a slow rock/fusion tempo with a lovely melodic line, followed by a free-form ballad with "Bella Donna." The nearly ten-minute "Blues on a Sunday" gives us a slow, intense blowing session, with hot solos being traded back and forth and a fine, moody coda that seems to lead into the final track, "Amazing Grace," a graceful reading that ends the album on a note of moving finality. Earl and McGriff work like one mind on this one.

Healing Time is a superb blues/jazz album, one that I can't imagine fans of either genre not digging. Earl's virtuosity is evident in every note, and McGriff's driving, rolling organ work puts the icing on the cake. Highly recommended.

[ by Chet Williamson ]

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