ROBBEN FORD> Soul on Ten

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robben ford

Soul on Ten

★★★ 1/2

Robben Ford is, of couse, a miraculously fluent guitarist, and an intelligent musician to boot. He’s no great shakes as a singer but possesses a sense of humor and, on Soul on Ten, a real feel for blues. He’s in the tradition of great players with somewhat limited vocal skills — Hendrix and Elmore James come to mind. Yet he makes it all work. Soul on Ten conflates James with Jimmy Reed and recalls all the great ’60s heavy blues guitarists Ford heard as he was growing up.

Since he’s an intelligent man, Ford knows that the blues combines empathy for the down-and-out with simple joy. His recent records have been pretty songful, and he’s has had something interesting to say about the great American underbelly. Here he stretches out and makes like Hendrix and Albert King and B. B. King, with fearsome wah-wah passages and beautifully voiced chords. Being a blues guitarist with serious jazz chops, Ford gets down with harmonic substitutions and all sorts of cooled-out sixths and ninths and thirteenths. Yet his lines never feel discursive. Most of these tracks were recorded live, and it suits Ford perfectly.

From “Spoonful,” done in an immaculate shuffle, to his B. B. King tribute “Indianaola” and the greasy “Set a Date” (which interpolates Reed’s “Baby, What You Want Me to Do,”) Ford swings through electric-blues history and comes up smiling. “You can’t avoid this confrontation,” he sings in “Supernatural,” but he comes across, both on record and on stage, as an eternal optimist. (This writer once observed Ford at a Nashville show in which he appeared with many other very skilled and extremely famous guitarists. Ford came out and proceeded to send them all back to school: the sheer delight he took in twisting the conventional was astounding to behold.)

So it’s a good record–a classy but not pretentious evening out with the blues. The licks are amazing, of course, and the band, which includes Travis Carlton on bass–yes, he’s Larry’s son–is stunning. If Ford could be a little deeper, so could we all, and he’s pretty deep. You might even say he’s got soul.

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