Robben Ford: Soul on Ten (2009)
While he's largely lived in the blues world for much of his career, guitarist Robben Ford has always been defined by a jazz sensibility. Sure, there's the grease and grit of overdriven, wah-wah'd electric guitar and a strong, rock-hard backbeat; but Ford's language since Robben Ford and the Blue Line (Stretch, 1992) has been a compelling combination of visceral blues bends and more evolved harmony. It's no surprise that he's been the go-to guitarist for everyone from Miles Davis and Charlie Haden to Keb' Mo' and John Mayall. Soul on Ten isn't Ford's first live album but it's a hot one, covering some of his best material from the past decade, hitting hard on a couple of blues standards from Willie Dixon, Elmore James, and Jimmy Reed, and introducing a couple of new originals into the repertoire.
When Ford emerged from the greater jazz proclivities of his early years with Blue Line, he also made a leap that too many great instrumentalists take unsuccessfully; and, truthfully, in his early days Ford was only an adequate singer. But years of gigging have turned him into a far looser, emotive singer, making songs like the change-heavy "Nothin' to Nobody"a collaboration with singer Michael McDonald from Supernatural (Blue Thumb, 1999)and an upbeat but still down-and-dirty look at Dixon's enduring "Spoonful," completely credible. Eight of Soul on Ten's ten tracks are live from two nights at San Francisco's The Independent, but the closing two tracksthe ambling, jazz-centric "Don't Worry," featuring a saxophone solo by Karl Denson and bluesier "Thoughtless," with guest spots by B-3 organist Larry Goldings and bassist Jon Buttonare live-in-the-studio recordings.
Outside of those guest spots, Ford's working quartetfeaturing powerhouse drummer Toss Panosbrings great energy to the high octane blues instrumental, "Indianola," from Blue Moon (Concord, 2002), where chordal passages in Ford's solo demonstrate his beyond-the-blues sophistication. The quartet knows how much to say and when to stop, with most of Soul on Ten's tracks in the four-to-eight minute range. Only "Nothin' To Nobody"which features a show-stopping solo from bassist Travis Carlton and an equally high-powered spot for organist Neal Evansextends beyond 11 minutes, while Ford's "There'll Never Be Another You," from Truth (Concord, 2007), expands beyond eight; with an open-ended solo section that goes places likely as surprising to the band as they must have been to the appreciative audience.
Throughout, Ford finds the middle ground between jazz language and the universal language of the blues. Whether it's the four-to-the-floor medley of James' "Please Set a Date" and Reed's "You Don't Have to Go" or Ford's more soulful "Earthquake," Ford solos with unerring taste and unfettered abandon. Over the course of the past two decades Ford has carved out a space all his own, with Soul on Ten providing the perfect love letter for the uninitiated, the ideal hot date for existing fans.
Track Listing: Supernatural; Indianola; There'll Never Be Another You; Spoonful; Nothin' to Nobody; Please Set a Date/You Don't Have to Go; Earthquake; How Deep in the Blues (Do You Want to Go); Don't Worry 'Bout Me; Thoughtless.
Personnel: Robben Ford: guitar, vocals; Neal Evans: B-3 organ (1-9); Travis Carlton: bass (1-9); Toss Panos: drums; Larry Goldings: B-3 organ (10); Jon Button: bass (10); Karl Denson: saxophone (9).