Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Guitarist Robben Ford plays the Blues on "Made to Last"

Robben Ford's Made to Last Sweetwater Studios

When your in the right mood, there is nothing like listening to some Blues. The Blues has been recorded for nearly one hundred years and although it often relies on simple three chord progressions it can still powerfully stir the soul and get the blood temperature rising. 

Guitarist Robben Ford has been plying his trade for over fifty years. Although the saxophone was his first instrument, he picked up the guitar at the age of fourteen and never looked back. Ford is one of those rare guitarist that can’t be pigeon-holed by genre. He seems equally comfortable in the worlds of rock, jazz and blues. The five-time Grammy nominated musician is now  sixty-six year old and has collaborated and played with a who’s who of musicians in his career including Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie. Charlie Haden, Larry Carlton, Joni Mitchell, Steely Dan, George Harrison and Kiss to name just a few.

Robben Ford (photo credit unknown)
He joined the electric jazz world of Miles Davis in 1986 at the Montreux Jazz Festival and was enlisted into saxophonist Tom Scott’s fusion band the LA Express in the nineteen seventies. His collaboration with the progressive crossover group The Yellowjackets started in the late seventies and he recorded two albums with them in 1981 and 1983. Despite his ability to traverse the different genres with great facility it is the Blues that seem to be closest to his heart. His playing is said to be strongly influenced by the guitarist Mike Bloomfield, but Ford has matured developing his own signature style. He started his career playing for Bluesman Charlie Musselwhite back in 1969 at the age of eighteen and recorded a live album with Blues singer Jimmy Witherspoon sometime later.

Fast forward to 2018 and on April 6th the guitarist/vocalist will release his latest Blues recording Made to Last. Ford is joined by the bassist Brad Allen, the drummer Wes Little, the rhythm guitarist Casey Wasner and Flecktones and Dave Mathews Band alumni, the versatile multi-reed artist Jeff Coffin.

From the opening power chords on Lightnin’ Hopkins “Good Times” Ford brings his tasty guitar and plaintive voice to vacuum you up into his orbit. The funky, synthesized saxophone of Coffin takes a few nasty licks of his own sounding like a chorus of horns, before Ford wails with his pungent, flowing guitar lines. The behind the beat drums of Little and the pulsing bass of Allen drive the song forward.

On the Willie Dixon classic “Crazy for My Baby” Ford’s voice leads the way as the rhythm section plays a rambling shuffle. Coffin’s raspy saxophone solo leads off before Ford plays a synthesized guitar solo, using the POG by Electro-Harmonix to create a double octave effect that has a unsettling feel to it, creating three notes at once.

Ford’s “Somebody’s Fool” is propelled by Wasner’s driving rhythm guitar, as Ford and Coffin take turns soloing. Ford’s guitar takes on a distinctively Southern rock tone as he pierces the changes with distinctive free flowing single note lines that perfectly punctuate the song. Coffin’s overdubbed saxophone almost sounds like a recreation of the Memphis Horns section.

On Lightnin’ Hopkins “Automobile Blues” we get the real Blues side of Ford. Again Coffin creates a backing horn section accompaniment that sounds as if three guys are playing it. Ford for his part is comfortably in his element on this slow cooker. His intonation is precise and liquid, and the rhythm section is firmly in the pocket. Coffin and Ford trade licks in a call and response that quivers with excitement. This one simmers.

The final song of this short but sweet cd is titled another Ford composition titled “the Champion” and here Ford switches to the trio of Dave Martin on bass and Nick D’Virgilio on drums. This is power trio stuff that harkens back to early Cream and yet it reminds a bit of the a late great  Roy Buchanan in its effectively raw simplicity. It's all Ford and his Gibson Les Paul guitar, with no vocals, just a straight ahead free-wheeling guitar jaunt.  Freed of the responsibility of singing, Ford’s lines seem even more unleashed and spontaneous than normal. Quite tasty.

For those who love great Blues guitar, Robben Ford’s Made to Last is no frills delight.

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