ROBBEN FORD – Bringing It Back Home

Robben Ford - Bringing It Back Home

Provogue [Release date: 18.02.13]

When it comes to feel, taste and tone, Robben Ford has to be your man. A guitarist for all seasons, Ford’s career has moved from his blues roots to, jazz fusion, new age, funk and back again to the blues, on a CD that explores some personal favourites in a jazzy blues tinged haze that reflects his musical roots.

The aptly titled ‘Bringing It Back Home’ is essentially a blues conversation between Robben, his 63 Epiphone Riviera and his intuitive band, featuring Larry Goldings on organ, Steve Baxter trombone, David Piltch on bass and drummer Harvey Mason.

The covers were apparently picked to reflect their emotional roots and for the most part Robben digs deep to make a real connection through his solos and intricate band interplay. The album’s concept is reaffirmed by a ‘then and now’ front and back cover photo, which features Robben now and previously as a teen.

The ten songs are imbued with his trademark economical playing. Each nuanced note is made to count and every inflection suggests a slight change of emphasis and mood. In short, ‘Bringing It Back Home’ lives up to its title, but the album is more about the guitarist’s interpretation of the blues rather than the material itself.

The opening brace of Alan Toussaint’s ‘Everything I Do Gonna Be Funky’ and Charlie Patton’s ‘Birds Nest Bound’ features some inspired interplay between Ford and trombonist Baxter with Goldings sharing the spotlight with some staccato organ stabs on ‘On That Morning’.

However, not all the covers bask in the afterglow of their interpretive triumph. The curious choice of Dylan’s ‘Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Mine)’ for example – with its propulsive trombone led riff – and the more obvious ‘Trick Bag’ by Earl King,  are given due reverence but sound functional rather than inspired.

‘Fair Child’ is far better, with its subtle dynamics and contrasting, crisp, interwoven guitar lines and bottom end trombone. Robben also adds a fine vocal performance to match his delicate phrasing.

The arrangements reach for an emotional intensity via a delicate use space and time, meaning the solos place the emphasis on subtle dynamics. But the album wilts slightly on the Jackson Brown MOR feel of ‘Oh Virginia’, which almost masks the beauty of its making, while the passable vocals and gentle undulating swing of ‘Slick Capers Blues’ relies on an unexpected time change, a deep trombone solo and a beautifully crafted guitar flurry to rescue it from its languor.

The following ‘Travellers Waltz’ is everything it two predecessors are not, being a beautiful example of cool restraint, all brushed strokes, confident vocals and delicate notes.

But perhaps I’m missing the point, as the playing is marvellous throughout, with a palpable sense of sophisticated cool as evidenced by the album’s anchor track ‘On That Morning’. The latter has a laid back groove that lies at the core of the album, while Robben’s reading of Sam Cooke’s ‘Fools Paradise’ achieves his aim of making an emotional connection with a requisite musical depth.

‘Bringing It Back Home’ restates Robben’s pivotal standing as a ‘guitar player’s guitar player’. The album has real presence and the guitarist speaks with his rich tone, effortless technique, and plays with real poise, taste and emotion, everything his fans would expect.  ****

Review by Pete Feenstra

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