A Day In Nashville might as well have been a day at the beach for the virtuosic blue-rock guitarist Robben Ford. Coming off a mostly-covers back-to-basics triumph Bringing It Back Home, Ford brought it to Music City for a back-to-basics album of mostly originals that entirely justifies him staying the course with old style, live-in-the-studio production.
The title says more than just about where these nine sides were recorded, it also tells you how long it took to record them all. Ford collected his touring band into the Sound Kitchen studio one day last year when a fresh batch of new songs inspired him to change his plans of capturing the band on record during their 2013 European tour. Ford, rhythm guitarist Audley Freed, bassist Brian Allen, organist Ricky Peterson, drummer Wes Little and trombonist Barry Green cut these tracks lickety split, and I’m not ever sure if the band had even seen the new material before that day.
Half-baked performances by these musicians? Not a chance.
Ford has always been a bit more polished than your regular blues-based guitarist; that’s the ace session player and jazz sides of him coming out. So his attention to detail is still palpable even on a rushed occasion like this one, but the stage vibe comes through, too. It became the best of both worlds he was no doubt looking for.
Performances you can easily clap along to come right from the start: Ford’s strutting “Green Grass, Rainwater” has soul (thanks to Peterson’s B3 support) and a sturdy rhythm section. Ford doesn’t normally bring in a second guitarist on his records, but with Freed ably holding down rhythm, Ford is free to adorn the song with little lead parts throughout and around his vocals (and probably saved him a lot of time, too!).
Green’s trombone, like Steve Baxter’s on the prior album, is an uncommon element on a blues record and like before, it’s only weird in theory. In practice, it fits within the whole process quite comfortably. When Ford and his bands gets laid back on the charming “I Ain’t Drunk” rewrite “Ain’t Drinkin’ Beer No More,” Green’s colorful ‘bone brings out the struggling drunk mood even more so. On the instrumental “Thump And Bump,” he and Ford share the lead lines and later gets to show off his chops.
As for Ford’s own chops, it’s impossible to know where to begin with him. His knack for the just-right tone and feel doesn’t get diluted in this instant session; the urban blues “Midnight Comes Too Soon” is full of that sweet stuff, and he gets full of jazzy spunk for his solo during the other instrumental “Top Down Blues.” But I could on for a month of Sundays about his licks.
Maceo Merriweather’s “Poor Kelly Blues” is the boys taking on a straight ahead 12 bar blues and in between Ford’s torrid excursions is a heaping helping of Peterson’s B3. James Cotton’s “Cut You Loose” is taken on, too, aptly described previously by Nick DeRiso as a “city blues, but with a greasy soul-jazz vibe.”
Ford’s gentlest and most soulful number is a result of a long-running erstwhile songwriting collaboration between him and Michael McDonald. “Different People” is full of nuanced intonation that typically takes many days to get down, and the stirring melody is the best of this batch of songs. Ford’s underrated vocal nails it, too.
“Nine songs in one day, that normally takes some time,” mused Ford. “But I credit the musicians. I thought, if we can pull this off, wouldn’t that be something.”
Made under the gun like most every record in a distant time, A Day In Nashville is something, alright. Something really good and pure.
All in a day’s work for Robben Ford.
A Day In Nashville will be released on March 4 by Mascot Label Group.