Bluesman Earl Takes Spiritual Approach

Excerpted from the magazine for

As with much of Ronnie Earl's music, his latest, "I Feel Like Goin' On," is largely instrumental, an anomaly in a genre where guitarists are generally paired with singers. Instead, Earl's emotion-laden guitar sings his songs' unspoken themes of joy, hurt, and redemption on the set, due March 18 from Stony Plain Records.

Only one track, "Mary Don't You Weep," features vocals with Earl and his band being joined by the Silver Leaf Gospel Singers.

"I love gospel music," Ronnie Earl says, "and when I met the Singers, they told me that they thought my playing was very church-y. The word 'church' means a gathering of souls, and the blues came out of the church, so there is a real connection there."

The Boston-based Earl performs sporadically due to health considerations -- including debilitating bouts with depression -- which have curtailed his live dates to the Northeast. Currently, he has only three shows on his schedule, June 7 in Lowell, Mass., Sept. 19 in Fall River, Mass., and Oct. 10 in Manchester, Conn.

But, if fans aren't able to see him live, this album gives good reason for believers to spread the word about the reclusive guitarist. "Ronnie's recent discs [Earl last recorded for Telarc] were a bit jazzier or featured lots of guests," Stony Plain Records owner and managing director Holger Petersen says. "This record is for people who want to hear Ronnie's pure, spiritual approach to the blues."

Although Earl is quick to say that he is not a guitar hero, Petersen anticipates that blues-guitar fans will warm to Earl's potent fretwork.

"I Feel Like Goin' On" is Earl's 18th album. While his Telarc selections -- 2000's "Healing Time" and the next year's "Ronnie Earl and Friend" -- failed to chart, his sole Verve release, 1997's "The Colour of Love" reached No. 10 on Billboard's Top Blues Albums chart.

Excerpted from the March 8, 2003, issue of Billboard. The full original text of the article is available in the members section.

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