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This article was published 3/1/2018 (1112 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
● ROOTS / COUNTRY
Ronnie Earl & The Broadcasters
The Luckiest Man (Stony Plain)
Long-serving blues guitar gentleman Ronnie Earl Horvath has delivered exceptional contemporary blues and roots music for decades, and with his latest studio album, The Luckiest Man, he again presents a solid set of tunes. Rather than slavishly emote old-school arrangements of classic blues songs, Earl and his always-excellent Broadcasters group twist and turn the blues idioms to fit their particular strength by avoiding obvious rock/blues clichés.
At 12 tracks and nearly 70 minutes, The Luckiest Man is a full-meal deal. Five of the tracks are full-on instrumentals and, as a showcase for Horvath’s chops within a band framework, will give blues guitar aficionados a few more hammer-ons and pull-offs to try to duplicate. Tributes abound as well, and any genuine master as long in the tooth as Horvath always treats fans to traceable clues to their earliest influences. James Brown classic Heartbreak (It’s Hurtin’ Me), Bobby Bland hit Ain’t That Loving You, Reverend Gary Davis’s delta-styled Death Don’t Have No Mercy, Magic Sam Maghett tribute instrumental Blues For Magic Sam and the Fenton Robinson-penned chestnut You Don’t Know What Love Is paint a dazzling image of the guitarist’s personal Mount Rushmore of the blues.
Broadcaster Diane Blue and guest vocalist Sugar Ray Norcia are both perfectly styled to fit Earl’s graceful approach and each creates striking contributions to the tracks they carry. The title song, at nearly 11 minutes long, neatly summarizes everything this guitarist is about and his tone, taste and tenacity speak for themselves.
★★★ out of fiveearl
Stream these: Ain’t That Loving You, Heartbreak (It’s Hurtin’ Me)
— Jeff Monk
● ROOTS / COUNTRY
Blue Smoke: The Music of Merle Travis (Little Pig Records)
Had he lived, 2017 would have been guitar great Merle Travis’s 100th year, and to celebrate, Vancouver’s vivacious rockabilly and western swing trio Cousin Harley have provided fans with a blistering tribute to their inspirational hero.
Leader Paul Pigat knows his way around his big Gretsch guitar intimately and both bassist Keith Picot and drummer Jesse Cahill propel his frenzied fretwork like they were joined at the proverbial hip. Most of Travis’s work has sadly been lost to the ages, yet these men revive not only the happy-go-lucky vibe of the master’s best-known songs, they blend in plenty of their own cheekiness and spunk to keep the album from becoming a mere homage to a hero.
One of Pigat’s most interesting tricks is to interpolate a riff or two from other songs while he is peeling off some feral, finger-picked fury. Opening track Divorce Me C.O.D. plays with a few notes from Dizzy Gillespie’s Salt Peanuts, the rambunctious Deep South naturally delivers a few poignant tones from Dixie and Travis classic Smoke Smoke Smoke That Cigarette has woven into it a smidgen of the military bugle call Reveille.
While most of these tracks are pretty long in the tooth, there could definitely be a resurgence of interest in coal miner laments Sixteen Tons and Dark As A Dungeon in modern day America. Even with the currently politically incorrect lyrics of So Round, So Firm, So Fully Packed and Fat Gal, Pigat and crew have built themselves a winner. Let your twanging guitar history education start here.
★★★★ out of five
Stream these: Deep South, Dark As A Dungeon
— Jeff Monk
Open Borders(Death Defying Records)
Winnipeg-born pianist/composer/educator Earl MacDonald has taken time from his position as director of jazz studies at the University of Connecticut to release this new album. Many will remember Earl from his numerous gigs around Winnipeg in the ’90s.
This release demonstrates his development as a composer and leader, and the dectet here shows this to fine advantage. The title was not intended to be a political statement; rather it reflects the remarkable diversity of the 10 musicians. They represent different ages, races/ethnicities, cultures, genders, sexual orientations, and so on, but the blending here is a testament to the value of "open borders."
The writing is complex and tight, with what MacDonald calls "solo enhancements" to provide pathways for improvisation. As a result, the soloists are remarkably clear and in sync with the ensemble. Tenor player Wayne Escoffery, bari player Lauren Sevian and trumpeter Jeffrey Holmes are especially powerful voices throughout the album.
The moods are varied and move from rhythmic swing to gentle melody. For example, the track Dolphy Dance imagines what Eric Dolphy might have sounded like in a current N.Y. salsa band.
It is always a pleasure to report on the growing success and development of a native son, and this album has much to recommend it to his hometown audience.
★★★★ out of five
Stream these: Dig in Buddy, Smoke and Mirrors
— Keith Black
Symphony No. 5
François-Xavier Roth(Harmonia Mundi)
Musical history comes full circle in this new release when Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 5, is performed by the same orchestra that premièred the piece in 1904. Back then, the late-Romantic composer/conductor led the Gürzenich Orchestra of Cologne through the five-movement work, further sub-divided into three parts; this latest incarnation serves as testament to the ensemble’s newest music director François-Xavier Roth’s bold vision and take-no-prisoners approach.
This is immediately apparently from the opening movement’s Trauermarsch trumpet solo that expands into its brooding funeral march. Roth keeps a tight rein on the second, stormier section, allowing for texture and colour to emerge before Part II’s opening Scherzo, including its striking horn solos.
There is also pleasing ebb and flow during Part III’s famous Adagietto, regarded as Mahler’s most recognized work, infused with shimmering strings and a gently plucked harp that unfolds in the composer’s lyrical love song penned for his then-pregnant wife Alma. Roth brings brightness to the concluding Rondo-Finale, instilling clarity with its imitative orchestral entries before finally ending on a crisp and triumphant note.
★★★★ out of five
— Holly Harris