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Tuesday, Mar. 28, 2017

Note By Note - Ronnie Baker Brooks

Posted Sunday, February 12, 2017, at 11:07 AM


Ronnie Baker Brooks

Times Have Changed

It really is funny how time slips away ...

It's hard to believe, but it's been 10 years since the blues-loving public has been treated to a new album from Chicago's Ronnie Baker Brooks.

But my, oh my, has Brooks (guitarist, vocalist, songwriter) ever made up for that decade-long absence with Times Have Changed (Provogue/Mascot Label Group).

Brooks has long been known for his modern take and twist on the Chicago blues and he's finally been able to transfer that onto an album.

Times Have Changed was produced by the great Steve Jordan, who in addition to being a top-notch musician in his own right, has worked with a who's-who of legends, including Eric Clapton, Keith Richards and Stevie Wonder, on studio projects and on the live stage. Jordan (who played drums on Times Have Changed) was also at the helm of Robert Cray's latest release, 2014's In My Soul (Provogue/Mascot Label Group).

Some of the overall vibe of In My Soul sure seems to have permeated Times Have Changed - no doubt due to Jordan's presence - and that's a beautiful thing.

Times Have Changed has a core of the electric Chicago blues that Ronnie's father - Lonnie Brooks, one of the all-time greats - helped to create by playing night after night after night in corner and basement bars all over the Windy City since the 1950s. That sound is stamped into the younger Brooks' DNA and probably always will be; which is a good thing.

But Brooks' latest album is a whole lot more than just Chicago-styled blues. It's also got a heathy dose of the wonderful southern R&B that Memphis has always been known for.

It's no surprise then, to find out that some of the tunes were cut at the iconic Royal Studios in the Bluff City, the one-time home locale for the amazing Al Green.

Not only did the 49-year-old Brooks record at Royal Studios, he also used the fantastic Hi Rhythm Section - (the Hodges brothers) Charles, Leroy and Teenie -along with the Memphis Horns, on the songs that were created there.

Memphis rapper Al Kapone also makes an appearance (on the title track) and while that genre is really not my cup of tea, you have to give Brooks credit for thinking a bit outside the box by inserting a bit of hip-hop flavor into the blues (something that Brooks' younger brother - Wayne Baker Brooks - has become known for).

During the sessions in Nashville for the album, Steve Cropper, Felix Cavaliere, Lee Roy Parnell and Todd Mohr also joined in on the fun.

While all of those guest spots certainly add some extra spice to Times Have Changed, one of the album's biggest kicks is delivered on "Twine Time." That instrumental cut features Ronnie trading licks with his dad, Lonnie, and is a real hoot to listen to. It definitely harkens back to the days when Lonnie, Ronnie and Wayne toured the world as The Brooks' Family Dynasty.

Five of the album's songs were written by Brooks and as much as his musicianship has continued to develop over the years, maybe his biggest growth over the past decade is in his talents as a songwriter.

The title track is a deeply heartfelt look at the contrasts of today vs. yesterday, viewed from both an individual perspective, as well as from the viewpoint of the world at large and highlights Brooks' maturing songwriting skills.

As a whole, the album represents the work of an artist that is refusing to stand still and deal from the same old deck.

Times Have Changed is certainly Ronnie Baker Brook's best album to date, and hopefully, he won't make us wait another decade for its follow-up.

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Terry Mullins, Sports Editor
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Since my own high school sports career fizzled out before it really reached its zenith, I have managed to live vicariously through the student/athletes of the 16 high schools I've covered for Areawide Media since 2001. I've witnessed the highest of highs in the form of state championships. I have also seen first-hand the sting of disappointment when the ultimate prize was within reach, but still eluded the grasp of its pursuer. But through all the ups and downs associated with high school sports, my respect for the young competitors that suit up each night, along with the men and women who guide them, remains unwavering. Blog mission: With my passion for music, especially live music, running second only to my passion for sports, I'll try to devote this space to both. Especially when it concerns our region and what's happening around it. Look for commentary and features on area sports figures and musicians, along with things to get out and do in the beautiful Spring River/Ozarks area. But I'll not totally ignore the outside - I'll also hit on some national happenings in the wide worlds of sports and music.
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