Mr. Earl’s 2016 album eulogizes his occasional bandmate – the gifted pianist David Maxwell. Hence the title “Maxwell Street” which was also a well-known Chicago street where twentieth midcentury Bluesmen performed outside a market area for tips. There are ten tracks included – six are originals authored by Earl and/or by other members of this edition of Earl’s Broadcasters Band.
Earl’s “Mother Angel” instrumental beautifully opens “Maxwell Street.” Even though many of Earl’s compositions often possess a similar vibe with his typical chord shifts – Ronnie still represents himself as a rare talent who not only writes well – he also delivers with his gorgeous guitar tone and heartfelt conveyance via his genuine/original guitar playing. Pianist Limina’s instrumental “Elegy for a Bluesman” marginally works and lacks drama on a tune that was likely intended for the late David Maxwell. Earl’s “In Memory of T-Bone” doesn’t jog my memory of T-Bone Walker’s fat chord riffs, but it’s a good workout for Ronnie who often digs down on slow blues songs like this – but he doesn’t elevate his playing like he did in the past. Who is this amateur vocalist Diane Blue (is that her real last name?) No matter she just doesn’t rate as being a co-author with Ronnie Earl on “Kismet” nor do her vocals belong on this recording. Moving forward Earl stretches out on Otis Rush’s classic “Double Trouble” but inexplicably Diane Blue is again dragged along for another round of vocal duties that that turns-out to be a complete bore and snore. Oh man Diane Blue returns for her third consecutive performance on a hit that Gladys Knight made famous “(I’ve Got to Use My) Imagination” but please do not expect any imaginative potential on this rendition.
Earl’s “Blues for David Maxwell” is obviously intended for the deceased pianist; it’s here that Ronnie unleashes one of his better solos. I refuse to comment about Diane Blue’s vocal performance on the lame cover of Eddy Arnold’s “You Don’t Know Me.” Sparks finally fly on Earl’s shuffling “BroJoe” that is easily the best and most energetic track on this otherwise lifeless recording, though the second guitarist is another no-name (Nicholas Tabarias) who doesn’t belong; begging the question – why? The final track Don Robey’s forever famous “As the Years Go Passing By” is once again marred with Diane Blue’s vocals; as soon as I heard her voice – I ejected the CD.
Earl opines: “Maxwell played blues as well as jazz with incredible expression from Otis Spann to Cecil Taylor. He knew and loved it all.” Earl’s notes are a precise characterization for Maxwell who often played solo piano on my radio shows and had the depth to play any genre of music he wanted; including avant-garde piano jazz, and of course the Blues. But Ronnie Earl’s tribute to Maxwell falls far short on what I’m confident Maxwell would not have endorsed. Maxwell was a easy and lighthearted cat to converse with, but was a serious player who could make the eighty-eight piano keys dance and do anything he summoned them to do. Unfortunately none of Earl’s “Maxwell Street” echoes David Maxwell mighty spirit on this (probably) well-intentioned recording. But it’s an unsuccessful tribute to a spectacular pianist – David Maxwell. Perhaps other talented musicians who knew and/or played with Maxwell like Ron Levy ore Duke Robillard can record a more suitable tribute recording to Maxwell – because this ain’t it.
For 17 years Bob Putignano has been pivotal with his Sounds of Blue radio shows.
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Previously a contributing editor at Blues Revue, Blueswax, and Goldmine magazines, currently the Music Editor for the Yonkers Tribune and www.MakingAScene.org Bob was also the 2003 recipient of the “Keeping the Blues Alive” award (given by the Blues Foundation in Memphis) for his achievements in radio broadcasting. Putignano can be contacted at: BobP@SoundsofBlue.com
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