Ronnie Baker Brooks is part of one of the most famous families to ever play the blues. His father Lonnie has long been a personal favorite of mine and I have had the pleasure of featuring his music on the show on several occasions. I have not had much exposure to Ronnie, but was always looking forward to the time when I could.
Recently I received a package from his label, Provogue, and inside was a copy of his latest release, Times Have Changed. I couldn’t wait to peel off the plastic wrapper and slide it into my CD player, and within minutes I was listening to an excellent album that was filled not only with Brooks’ great guitar work and vocals, but a host of famous friends who joined Brooks on almost all of the eleven songs on the album.
I think you’re going to enjoy this one as much as I did.
Brooks starts rocking right away with Show Me, a great song that features the legendary Steve Cropper. Cropper here is in all his STAX glory, driving Joe Tex’s song with his signature guitar sound. Brooks delivers the vocals with a great honkytonk style.
Next up, Brooks is joined by “Big Head” Todd Mohr, the leader of Big Head Todd And The Monsters as well as Big Head Blues Club. Doing Too Much is a good funky blues number written by Brooks and Mohr. Together they explore a couple of blues boundaries in search of a unique sound. Listen for the guitar break.
For the instrumental Twine Time, Brooks is joined by his father and frequent collaborator, Lonnie Brooks. Okay, there’s a little vocal jostling at the beginning, but once the music really starts there are only some shouts of joy. The guitar work is stellar on this number, and the first three songs are ones I definitely want to feature on Time For The Blues.
On the title track, Times Have Changed, Brooks teams up with hip hop artist Al Kapone. Brooks is showing that while he was raised in blues traditions, he doesn’t mind exploring new ways of exhibiting his art. The song takes a mellow approach and there’s a certain melancholy sweetness to it.
Long Story Short is the first of three songs that Brooks performs with his core musicians only. The song is energetic and Brooks’ guitar really shines. The title is not prophetic as the song clocks in at just shy of six minutes, but it’s got some real sass and attitude. I like it, and would love to hear it live to see the crowd reaction. I have a feeling they will be joining in on the chorus.
Brooks follows up with the Curtis Mayfield song, Give Me Your Love (Love Song), and is joined by Angie Stone. It’s a sweet, quiet song and easily the longest on the album at eight minutes and change. Stone’s vocals add a new dimension to the album and the soulful sentiments make this a joy to hear. The addition of the strings and the horns give the album a new direction and this is one of those great late night songs to have on your stereo when you feel that you’re missing the one you love.
A second Joe Tex number is next, Give The Baby Anything The Baby Wants, and it features Eddie Willis and the return of “Big Head” Todd Mohr. Brooks and company explore their funky side and deliver a wild song. There’s a real energy to this one, not so much in the tempo, but more in the way Brooks delivers the song.
The late Bobby “Blue” Bland provides the lead vocals on Old Love, and is joined by Brooks on vocals and guitar. Bland is one of the true immortals of the blues and though he passed in 2013, it is sheer joy to hear one of his recordings one more time. The lyrics are beautiful, poetic, and the delivery is sweet and strong.
Brooks follows up with a real rocking number, Come On Up, which features Felix Cavaliere and Lee Roy Parnell. It’s a fast paced, driving song that is sure to get you up onto the dance floor. This one is just plain fun and I know I’ll be featuring it on the show.
The last couple of songs are Brooks with his core musicians, no real collaborations. First up is Wham Bam Thank You Sam, a twist on the way one usually hears that phrase. Does this qualify as a feminist anthem? I’ll leave that to smarter people than I, but I can tell you that it is a pretty cool number and the lyrics are clever. Give it a listen and make up your own mind.
The album ends up with When I Was We, a soft and tender song. Brooks has chosen a beautiful soul number to bring everything to a close. I’ve always been attracted to these kinds of songs and Brooks has done a great job with it. It’s a strong way to end the album, with just enough vulnerability to let us see through the mask of the artist. Bold choice.
Brooks is the kind of artist who searches for new ways to bring the blues to life. He realizes that the audience is constantly changing and artists need to find ways to reach that elusive audience. Here, he’s worked with a number of established players, including some that are considered among the best that ever worked in the blues.
He’s also chosen to explore new artists who might have a fresher approach. Does the experiment work? I think it does, but I have always enjoyed a performer who stretches limits and pushes him or herself into new territories. You’ll have to decide whether it works for you, but I honestly believe Ronnie Baker Brooks deserves that chance.
Check him out for yourself. His website can be found at: http://www.ronniebakerbrooks.com/ and you can read more about this album, his previous works, and see if he’s going to be playing anywhere near you.