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Robert Ward set an awfully high benchmark with his 1990 release Fear No Evil, a comeback album now considered a classic. New Role Soul is the work of a somewhat mellower man who remains an incredible musician at age 64. Propelled by the leader’s intricate guitar playing and animated vocals, this CD sounds better with each spin.
Ward has perfected one of the most original guitar sounds in the blues, thanks in part to his use of Magnatone amplifier. His singing is equally distinctive, though more of an acquired taste. There’s no question the man pours a lot of soul into his music.
New Role Soul contains nine original songs including three by Ward’s wife Roberta and six by the guitarist himself – as well as four covers. The lyrics convey a sort of mystical optimism, while the music is funky, earthy and pleasingly unconventional.
The tracks "Put Yourself In My Place," "Never Found A Girl" and "Don’t Make No Sense" revisit Ward’s R&B background. (After helping to found the band that eventually became the Ohio Players, Ward was lead guitarist with the seminal soul band the Falcons, and later a session guitarist for Motown Records.) Two of the aforementioned cuts feature a fine four-piece horn section.
Two instrumental tracks the funky original "Chicken Jerk" and Kenny Burrell’s "Chittlins Con Carne" present Ward’s guitar prowess in dissimilar formats. The former track shows off that exquisite watery tone Ward displayed so effectively on Fear No Evil. The lengthy slow-blues "Whichever I Receive" flows along like liquid gold. It’s marked by some expressive exchanges between Ward and organ player Kevin McKendree, who also impresses on other cuts. The transcendently soulful "Peace of Mind," and "I Come to Save You" convey a sense of spirituality without too much sermonizing.
Robert Ward is the rare blues guitarist who has developed a truly original style, and New Role Soul is one of his best recordings.