Ronnie Earl & The Broadcasters: Isabella




Ronnie Earl & The Broadcasters


Grateful Heart: Blues & Ballads (Bullseye Blues 9565)

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Ronnie Earl (guitar), David 'Fathead' Newman (tenor sax),

Bruce Katz (piano), Rod Carey (bass), Per Hanson (drums)


Composed by Kenny Burrell


Recorded: Carlisle, MA, June 1995


Rating: 96/100 (learn more)

Ronnie Earl made his name as a member (from 1979 to 1987) of the popular Roomful of Blues, whose emphasis on swinging jump blues enabled him to incorporate some of the sophistication of jazz into his incisive blues guitar style. In the '90s, Earl led a resourceful and versatile all-instrumental quartet, and the group's Grateful Heart CD won the 1996 Downbeat Critics Poll for Best Blues Album, one that Earl dedicated to Rahsaan Roland Kirk, John Coltrane, Duane Allman and David "Fathead" Newman. Not many blues musicians other than Earl were recording versions of tunes such as Monk's "'Round Midnight," Coltrane's "Alabama" and Bobby Timmons's "Moanin'," so it wasn't surprising to find Newman guesting on this session, and Earl electing to do an old Kenny Burrell ballad, "Isabella," which first appeared on Burrell's 1966 LP The Tender Gender.

"Isabella" is one of those typically catchy, deceptively uncomplicated Burrell themes. Earl is tenderly passionate in playing the melody, with Katz's fervent and compatible comping. The pianist's solo is straight jazz, featuring lush chords and sparkling runs. Newman's discourse is blues-inflected tenor at its most majestic, his full-bodied tone and swirling phrases transporting the listener as Katz, Carey, and Hansen offer their sensitive support. Earl is reflective in a solo that contains glowing, pliant strummed passages executed with a pleasingly delicate touch, as well as tastefully apt allusions to "It Ain't Necessarily So," to which "Isabella" bears some similarity. Even the fadeout ending works for once.

Reviewer: Scott Albin

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