Robben Ford – Truth (2007)

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A diverse musician like guitar wizard Robben Ford is capable of competently cranking out just about any kind of record he wants to. Rock, blues, jazz, r&b or folk, Ford’s done it all, whether he’s playing for his own records or for the likes of Joni Mitchell, George Harrison or Miles Davis. We touched on Robben’s wide ranging talent last November when highlighting an old Paul Butterfield song he covered at the end of 1999’s Supernatural.

This week, Robben releases a set of songs that touches mostly on blues, but also rock and r&b. And like Supernatural, it’s a platform for his expanding songwriting skills. Truth, as he named it, seeks to speak to everyday concerns most of us face in the early 21st century, a sort of modern-day blues record. Ford himself clarifies the overriding theme of Truth when he plainly states “I love playing, but I want my music to be about something. It’s the context – the song that gives the playing purpose.”

That purpose is encapsulated and put forth right from the get-go in the opening “Lateral Climb,” a no-nonsense 12 bar blues about the seeming futility in trying to get ahead in life. From trying to beat the traffic to facing diminishing real incomes to getting bogged down in war, Ford states his concerns in a everyday, non-preachy way. His anxiousness about wars overseas as well violence domestically are relayed again on the low-key soulful number “Peace On My Mind.”

More often than not, though, his blues are on a more personal level. Take for instance, the sassy “You’re Gonna Need A Friend,” the hard-rocking “Too Much” or the moody, Santana-style blues of “Moonchild Blues.”

Ford also throws in a couple of well-chosen covers amidst a mostly self-penned set of songs. “Nobody Fault But Mine” is an old Otis Redding B-sider given a funky, horn driven reading by Robben. Paul Simon’s “One Man’s Ceiling Is Another Man’s Floor” is a down-home folksy performance that features blues queen Susan Tedeschi sharing the lead vocals. Damn, I’ve forgotten how well that woman can sing!

But despite the intent on getting commonplace worries across, fans of Ford’s guitar playing needn’t worry about finding this record lacking in what he does best. Robben’s still got licks to spare, but just like one of his influences B.B. King, he finds a way to weave those licks around his singing without getting them in the way.

And speaking of King, Ford co-wrote a touching tribute to the old master called by B.B.’s birth name, “Riley B. King.” It’s not really a blues tune, but a jazzy soul song, which will probably suit the old legend just fine, since King always used soul and jazz shadings in his songs. It’s propelled by Robben’s rhythm and lead guitar and sharp, lean accompaniment. The lyrics paint a portrait of King as a majestic but introspective, gentle figure, and while Robben is not known as a crooner, he gives those lyrics a sincere reading.

My personal favorite track, “How Deep In The Blues (Do You Want To Go)” is the song that displays most of his numerous talents: hard hitting blues-rock with a few jazz chords thrown in. Ford’s rhythm guitar, Bernie Worrell’s understated but funky Wurlitzer and a strong counter-beat by drummer Charley Drayton provide a tight rhythm over which Ford lays down a stinging lead in the instrumental break.

All told, Truth is a straight and narrow Robben Ford record, playing it safe with no real surprises enclosed. He’s done everything on this CD many times before and could probably do it in his sleep. On the other hand, he also does it so well and with such honesty that you can’t help but to enjoy it, anyway.

Purchase: Robben Truth – Truth

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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