Guitarist Ronnie Earl, one of today’s most versatile and sophisticated blues stylists, started out in the 70s in the Boston area, where he sat in with visiting Chicago luminaries like Otis Rush and Big Walter Horton. He eventually signed on with Roomful of Blues, a New England-based band that specialized in the kind of tight, horn-drenched arrangements favored by postwar Texas-California bluesmen in the T-Bone Walker mold–a style with which Earl quickly became closely associated. About a decade later Earl went solo, and since then he’s dug deeper into his Chicago roots while continuing to explore more esoteric improvisational directions. Earl is a rarity in modern blues: a remarkably clean guitarist, capable of complex patterns full of furious but precise staccato flurries, who nonetheless imparts each note with a searing emotional honesty. The bluesman who finds redemption through baring his soul onstage is one of the most tired cliches in all of music, but in Earl’s case it’s no empty image: he pours himself into his playing with the intensity of a man holding onto a lifeline. Friday, 9 PM, House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn; 312-527-2583 or 312-559-1212. DAVID WHITEIS
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Ronnie Earl photo by James Fraher.