Ronnie Douglas grew up in the First Nations village of Rama, geographically close to but culturally far removed from Toronto. He recalls a strong sense of both home and community, in particular the influence of his 'big brother' Larry, a respected musician in his own right who introduced the younger sibling to a wide variety of musical stylings.
That sense of community is amply evident on Ronnie's debut. Ronnie wrote all but two of the tracks, and while the themes aren't startlingly different from those standard to the blues - love, loss, longing and separation predominate - there's somehow a generosity of spirit that shines through. One gets the feeling Ronnie has a pretty good handle on the ways of the human heart, and a pretty big heart of his own.
The first track, "On My Way," sees Ronnie acknowledging his own transgressions and begging forgiveness - something one senses he himself is quick to bestow.
Track two, "You Don't Know," is a tender ballad with a tastefully understated arrangement; "Don't You Know" rides a straight shuffle beat. The title track is a mid-tempo instrumental that contrasts Greg Duncan's harp against Bob Federer's churchy organ. "Foolish" returns to ballad territory, with Ronnie lamenting lost opportunities. "Highway 44," another instrumental, has a Texas-style groove; again, it's Mr. Federer's organ that gives the tune much of its impetus, with the harp soaring over and above it all. "Good Time Baby" may be a slow 12-bar, but again the message is upbeat, with Ronnie promising a good time still to come. "Why Am I Drinkin'?" takes a wry look at the consequences of alcoholic overindulgence, a sort of morning-after reassessment. Ronnie wraps things up with a pair of covers, Muddy's "Blow Wind Blow" and Wolf's "Who's Been Talking?". Both are treated as straightforward shuffles, with the latter capturing some of the menace Wolf himself had in mind.
Though it's Ronnie's name up front, he proves himself an unselfish leader, leaving lots of room for both harp and keyboard solos, taking very little of the instrumental spotlight himself. Bob Federer's keys are a highlight throughout; his piano sparkles in all the right places, and his organ work is outstanding. Greg Duncan's primarily acoustic harmonica work is appealing, though his somewhat thin tone loses appeal over the course of the disc. He's very good, but a little harp can go a long way (this from a harp player!).
Ronnie's voice, though, is a treasure. Reminiscent of Edward "Little Buster" Forehand, there's a raspy, "I've lived this stuff" quality to it; he manages to be quietly convincing without the need for vocal histrionics.
The project was recorded live off the floor, which means that any sonic imperfections are more than compensated for by a corresponding immediacy, a very palpable sense of relaxed musical interplay among time-tested veterans more concerned with complementing each other than cutting heads.
Great stuff, highly recommended!
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