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(Provogue Records As broadcast on WVIA-FM 2/12/2014)
There are a few performers who continue to show their versatility during the course of a fairly long career, but still manage to keep a sense of coherence to their music and sound. Guitarist Robben Ford is definitely of those artists. He has had a career that included stints with bluesman Jimmy Witherspoon, along with Joni Mitchell, George Harrison and even Miles Davis. And yet over the years, the blues has been his general point of focus for his own musical projects. Robben Ford has just released his latest recording called A Day in Nashville.
A native Californian born into a musical family in 1951, he started on sax, but was drawn to the guitar, especially after seeing some of the psychedelic-era guitarists in San Francisco as he was growing up. He played in a family blues band with his two brothers, and at an early age was recruited by blues great Jimmy Witherspoon. As a early saxophonist, he was also drawn to jazz, and came to combine his interests with his stint in the L.A. Express, which became Joni Mitchell's backup band for a while. From there, he was hired for a tour with George Harrison. He was signed to Elektra Records and his debut album under his own name became essentially the beginning of the band Yellowjackets. After hearing a recording by the Yellowjackets, Miles Davis invited Ford into his band, a tenure that would last only six months, due to other commitments.
Ford began a series of solo albums with a blues direction starting in 1988 and, with occasional time out for various other projects, he has been releasing a series of worthwhile recordings on various labels that combine his love for the blues with the musical sophistication of his jazz facet. Also, in recent years, he has become increasingly involved with teaching and producing instructional video lessons.
His last album, Bringing It Back Home, released last year, featured Ford doing a collection of cover tunes of music that was influential to him as he was coming up. The songs were served up in Ford's distinctive jazzy-bluesy style.
The new CD, to be released in the US in early March 2014, is literally true in its title, A Day in Nashville. That is where it was recorded and how long it took. However, the recording venue, the capital of country music, does not lead to a twangy sound. While it's basically bluesy, the mostly original material has some of the stylistic layers typical of Ford's music, and this time the lyrics make it a bit like a bluesy singer-songwriter record.
Ford works with a constant small band throughout the record, with Audley Freed on second guitar, Ricky Peterson, with whom Ford has worked a lot over the years, on keyboards, Brian Allan on bass and Wes Little on drums. Featured prominently is a trombone player, Barry Green, who takes almost as many solos as Ford on the album.
Ford's fans are unlikely to be much surprised by A Day in Nashville. Perhaps the most unexpected thing is how little it sounds like Nashville country music, despite the title. In fact it often hints at the style of that other Tennessee music center, Memphis. While it's music in a style that Ford's fans will find familiar, that is not to say that the album is musically dull in any way. Reecording essentially live in the studio, all in one day, does impart an immediacy that conjures the sound of Ford's commendable live recordings of the past.
The CD opens with a Ford original called Green Grass, Rainwater. It's one of the tunes that hints at the Memphis soul sound. The track focuses on the lyrics and vocal more than the guitar work, but the playing is tasteful. <<>>
A lot more toward blues is Midnight Comes Too Soon, which features Ford's guitar a lot more prominently, though Ford's vocal is one of his best on the album. <<>> Ford gets an extended guitar solo toward the end, showing his combination of bluesiness and musical sophistication. <<>>
An original song called Ain't Drinkin' Beer No More is a kind of musically lighthearted look at a potentially serious subject. <<>> Trombonist Barry Green is featured fairly prominently. <<>>
There are two instrumentals on the album. One is called Top Down Blues, done in a funk beat, and again spotlighting trombonist Green. <<>>
Cut You Loose is a song of breakup, as you might expect from the title. It's a kind of swamp blues to which the band gives a great groove. <<>> It's a lengthy track that gives time for solos by keyboard man Peterson along with Ford. <<>>
One of the two non-original songs on the record is Poor Kelly Blues, which is more in the classic blues style, both musically and lyrically. Here, the Ford and the band get to play more of a straight blues. <<>>
A song called Different People is a composition by Robben Ford and Michael McDonald who were in a band together for a while. It's a song more in McDonald's style, and it shows the band's more mellow pop side. <<>>
The CD ends with Just Another Country Road a great shuffle-style blues with social commentary lyrics and nice playing all around. <<>>
You don't have to be a long-time fan to enjoy Robben Ford's new album A Day in Nashville. The veteran blues, rock and fusion guitarist and songwriter has come up with another appealing recording that is marked by Ford's typical high level of musicianship along with his love for the blues. It should also be noted that the CD highlights Ford's composing, with the originals making up seven of the nine tracks. His writing has a lot going for it, as it highlights his style.
Our audio quality grade is about a B-plus. The sound is generally clean and nicely mixed. But the now typical over-compression for the sake of loudness, takes a lot of the life and sparkle out of the music, with the sound having no place to grow or wane in intensity.
The title of the CD, A Day in Nashville is literally accurate, but Robben Ford and his band do anything but go country on the album. With Ford's music so uniformly high in quality, it's hard to pick a best album by him. But the fact that this CD is pretty much live in the studio, recorded in one day, gives it a real quality that's quite appealing.
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