Robben Ford

Robben Ford

Concord Records USA - CD30234

By Brian D. Holland
October 2007

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Truth, the new release from guitar virtuoso Robben Ford, was released in Europe in June and in the US in August. The disc contains 11 tasteful, bluesy, and contemporary songs, each with a style and sound of its own.

A blues musician by category, no actual limitations exist in the playing of the Ukaih, California born-and-bred guitarist/vocalist. His uncanny ability to appear saturated in basic American roots tradition, yet fashionably contemporary, is something only he can pull off. Known for his tasteful bluesy style and incredible guitar tone, his technique and phrasing are like no other.

The 1998 release, Talk to Your Daughter, rendered him a name to reckon with in the music world. The albumís stylistic cleverness, kind of on a ĎSteely Dan plays the bluesí level in perfection and musicianship, opened up doors to an awareness of contemporary blues that was both innovative and exciting.

Though Ford has proven time and again throughout his career that heís just as comfortable playing contemporary jazz and other styles, the blues is the harbor he always returns to. The music his band, Robben Ford and the Blue Line, made was very much a return to those roots. It was a vehicle that highlighted his songwriting ability as well - a talent thatís still prevalent today.

While Truth can be descriptive of Fordís style and realistic approach to music, the title of the album actually refers to a theme. Ford makes it quite clear that he had set out to make a blues record, but lyrically and thematically, he wanted it to speak to today. Blues lyrics have a tendency to refer to the past. Though theyíve long been associated with socio-political subject matter like racism and poverty, the stories usually speak of common scenarios such as hard times, good times, evil, and love and devotion. However, a few of the songs on Truth speak of war, socio-economics, and todayís political state of affairs.

In the opening number, "Lateral Climb", Ford sings of lifeís rat race and how it can be a lateral climb to artificial accomplishment. The song begins with sounds of a hectic life: the screeching of automobile tires, conversation, the jingling of car keys, and a running motor. A piano intro takes it into a gritty roadhouse atmosphere. Ford gets into some scorching soloing throughout.

In "How Deep In The Blues (Do You Want To Go?)", Charlie Draytonís heavy off-beat percussion sustains a funky groove. Bernie Worrellís Wurlitzer piano and Will Leeís thumping bass adds to it superbly.

Otis Reddingís "Nobodyís Fault But Mine," complete with horn section, Hammond organ, and R&B atmosphere, is different than the original, of course. Though itís done with more of a straightforward rhythmic flow, lacking Reddingís raw funk and grit, itís performed only as Robben Ford would do it. The coverís contemporary approach takes lyrics of confession and guilt and twists them into an outlook of inspiration and encouragement, without changing a word. Itís all in the music.

"Riley B. King," Fordís tribute to B. B. King, compliments the great bluesman in a suitable and pleasantly sentimental manner. Though not a blues song relatively speaking - it even seems to evoke a James Taylor melodic style in places - Fordís last solo within the piece is an astounding blend of subtle licks and diverse phrasing

"Youíre Gonna Need A Friend," is a collaboration of husband and wife. Written by Robben and actress Anne Kerry Ford, itís a smooth-flowing and confident composition. The tonal textures are pleasing to listen to, and both the lead and background vocals make for a robust and forthright R&B melody.Though "One Manís Ceiling Is Another Manís Floor," starts with nearly the same descending arpeggio arrangement as the Paul Simon original, but with guitar in front of the piano, Ford makes it his own just as soon as the verse begins. Guest Susan Tedeschi adds poignant vocals. Her voice drops a thick layer of blues into the recipe, adding stimulation and luster to an otherwise standard treat. A good song, but it needed something. Tedeschi was it.

"Too Much" is Robben and the band playing some gritty roadhouse blues. He shines on this one with amazing riffs and rhythmic chops. However, the band is just as noteworthy. The explosive rhythm section, made up of drummer Toss Panos and bassist Jimmy Earl, is effectively potent.

Though much of the lyrical content on the record adheres to the aforementioned theme in a distant manner, "Peace On My Mind" is another one that speaks blatantly about today, both socially and politically. The subject matter is powerful and solemn, yet the melody is soft and passionate. The guitar soloing throughout is so expressive and melodic that it could have been inserted into an instrumental piece, but it fits nicely in a song that really means something vocally, as well as instrumentally.

Much of "Truth" is extremely rhythmic, leaning heavily on smooth flowing, legato-like, funky, and offbeat tempos. "Thereíll Never Be Another You" is exemplary of that description. Thereís a little of all of that in it. Once again, Will Leeís bottom thump and Charley Draytonís percussive prowess are very much a part of it.

"River Of Soul" features Yellowjackets member Russell Ferrante on acoustic piano, giving the song its smooth and melodic jazzy feel.

"Moonchild Blues" finishes the disc on a charming note, in an area of tasteful contemporary blues. Though the songís completeness is augmented with a horn section, Ford shines at the albumís end with amazing tone and wonderful phrasing.

Though a theme exists in the title of the album and the lyrics within, one canít help finding Truth relative to the music as well. The songs are genuine, heartfelt, soulful, and extremely tasteful. Fordís playing is quality, as usual, and his tone and phrasing are like no other. He seems to display an unusual sense of enthusiasm and consistency in everything he does as a guitarist and as a performer.

Blends of blues, jazz, R&B, and more come perfectly together in Robben Fordís Truth to form a contemporary, yet very original and special group of songs. Besides the ones already mentioned, a gang of wonderful musicians were involved in the making of this record.

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