Reviews Zone

Ronnie Baker Brooks: ‘Times Have Changed’ (Provogue/Mascot) 20th January 2017

4 Stars (4 / 5)


His first album in a decade, you can tell that for Ronnie Baker Brooks, son of renowned Chicago Bluesman Lonnie Brooks, it is a labour of love. A love of the blues and the music he was born to play. It’s in his genes you know!

Produced by Steve Jordan, it features Lonnie Brooks, “Big Head” Todd Mohr, Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland, Steve Cropper, Angie Stone, Eddie Willis, Al Kapone, Felix Cavaliere and Lee Roy Parnell.

A starry array of talent, but Ronnie is never over-shadowed, and nor is the material, which gives a pretty even listen. Here we have a real blues album. Not the stuff they churn out nowadays and label it blues when it is in fact bloody loud rock – with a few stolen blues licks! Ohhh, easy tiger!

Brooks Junior was born in Chicago 49 years ago, and started playing guitar around age six. At 19, he joined his father, Lonnie Brooks; who by then had influenced some of the most well-known bluesman such as Jimmy Reed, the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Johnny Winter, and Junior Wells. For 12 years the two would tour together, putting Ronnie out front with Eric Clapton, B.B. King, Buddy Guy, and Koko Taylor.

“Times Have Changed”, carries with it the weight of grown perspective and time spent perfecting old material. Brooks worked it with Steve Jordan, whose work runs from Keith Richards to Stevie Wonder, John Mayer and Eric Clapton.

“I decided to go to Memphis and Nashville for the particular musicians and studios I wanted to engage,” Jordan explained.  “As it turns out, Ronnie had done a few of his previous recordings in Memphis, so he felt right at home.”

The project came together over the course of a few weeks on hallowed ground; at Royal Studios in Memphis, the home of Al Green, Syl Johnson and Bobby “Blue” Bland.

Jordan and Brooks brought in Memphis music royalty: Stax Records staple Steve Cropper (Booker T. & the M.G.’s, Otis Redding, Sam & Dave), Archie Turner (Al Green, Syl Johnson, O.V. Wright), jazz saxophonist Lannie McMillan, and R&B icon Angie Stone.

For several tracks, Brooks also enlisted brothers Teenie (guitar), Charles (organ) and Leroy Hodges (bass) of the legendary Hi Rhythm Section, which served as the house band for hit soul albums by artists like Al Green and Ann Peebles. They used the same microphones that Al Green used on his record. In fact, they were using much of the same band! It has that same kind of vibe, but with a gutsy blues edge.

The first track down was a cover of Curtis Mayfield’s ‘Superfly’ hit, “Give Me Your Love.” The second, “Twine Time,” the instrumental jam from Alvin Cash, the Freddie King classic.  It is a very fine interpretation indeed.

Five of the eleven tracks were penned by Brooks. Raised on others’ music, he’s always considered the songwriting process to be as sacred. The title song was written some years ago, but it’s timeless and a perfect fit.

Ronnie kicked of his recording career with “Golddigger,” his 1998 debut album, and like that one, this one is authentic enough for the older generation, while relevant to today’s younger generation too.

It’s the blues for sure, but there’s lashing of thick soul and respectful nods to those who have gone before. But Mr B is his own man and it’s a superb re-entry to the recording arena – let’s make sure it is not another 10 long years before the next one.

 

By Simon Redley

 


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