What caused me to sit down and immediately toss this disc into the player was the fact that Ronnie Earl decided to cover a very overlooked tune, Duke Pearson's Christo Redentor, which the inimitable and then very young Harvey Mandel, a guitarist criminally overlooked to this day, also hit on an LP of the same name in 1968. I couldn't wait to see what Ronnie was going to do with the gem, and those who have followed him through many years, many releases, and many delights already know I wasn't to be disappointed. In fact, Earl damn near one-ups Mandel here in an early Benson-esque fashion, a completely different sidepocket, stripping away the orchestral / choral backgrounds of the '68 take, settling into a triple sweet rendition where each note is soulfully felt, keyboardist Dave Limina providing all the atmospherics needed to bed those six strings in a bank of clouds. The sole thing that saved Mandel's posterity on that one is…well, he's Harvey Mandel, that's enough.
Mr. Earl has found religion, it rescued him from the hell of addiction, and it's, as such things always do, changed his life. The gunslinger's playing is as fiery and as wisely considered as ever, but there's indeed a new element informing this venerable mainstay, and it's a renewed sense of élan. Catch how he fragments a number of his solo passages in the opening cut, Backstroke, and you'll see what I mean. The layback, then, into the juicy Blues for Dr. Donna likewise demonstrates that no tempo or mode eludes the guy, all subtleties open to his delectation. And yours. In that, then, is the answer that may be posed in a few minds: Earl is thinking and emoting more clearly than ever.
Make no mistake, he's undergoing a renaissance, a new man who's still the same old guy…times three. Study this disc as you would a slab by Duke Robillard or Grant Green because there's a hell of a lot here, none of it beholden to a grateful past save for the depth and ingenuity that history groomed. In some ways, Spread the Love is almost a textbook in how to play the guitar and should find an audience that will widen to take in everything offered. The masterful restraint and consummate taste alone present baroque possibilities, and I think this release will be retrospectively found to a watershed moment. Look for everything you've come to expect of the guy, and then look a whole lot more, 'cause it's right there.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2010, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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