On his second album for the Concord Jazz label, guitarist Robben Ford stays pretty much to the formula of Blue Moon from 2001. He concentrates on playing, singing, and covering great songs (and even writes a few) with interesting arrangements, inspired solos, and crisp, clean production that lets the song shine through the players. Much has been made of Ford's eclecticism and that is reflected in his choice of material here, though he never strays from the blues or R&B into jazz or fusion. Ford's selection of session players reflects his divergent interests as well: Edgar Winter appears on saxophone, while John Mayall and Ivan Neville guest along with horn bosses Bob Malach and Dan Fornero and Ford's road band. Opening the set with the title track, written by soul man Jackie Edwards, Ford lays out his formula immediately: a tight horn chart for tenor and baritone saxes, as well as trumpet; a crystal clear, expressive vocal delivery; and Ford's signature stinging guitar in the solo break lifts proceedings off on the up tip. The funky read of the Al Perkins/Otis Rush jam "Homework" features some blistering yet tasteful guitar work and a soulful vocal from Ford. But the two covers that proceed immediately thereafter through the entire album into the winds: first there is a beautiful and reverent version of "Badge" by Eric Clapton and Ford's former boss George Harrison as a tribute to the late guitarist, and a radical read of Nick Lowe's classic "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love & Understanding" with Mavis Staples singing a duet vocal.
First there is the strange intro, a direct quote from Clapton's "Wonderful Tonight," then there is the slow, shuffling reggae in the main body of the tune while retaining the melody. It is unsettling, to say the least, with only Ivan Neville's chunking chords on the electric piano keeping some of the tune dirty and immediate. But despite its different read, it is full of depth and dimension. The song almost becomes a prayer with Staples echoing each line and Ford sticking very emotionally close to the lyric. Other standouts on this set include Ford's tribute to Freddie King, "Cannonball Shuffle," the lone instrumental on the set; the Gamble & Huff redo "For the Love of Money," with a killer backing chorus of Neville, Terry Evans, and Ray Williams; and the funky, midnight broken-hearted blues of "Bonnie," written with Bonnie Hayes. Ford's been on the scene a long time, made a lot of great music, and has confused his fans and detractors alike. But this role, that of the amiable, street-savvy urban bluesman seems to suit him best judging by Blue Moon first and Keep on Running, but Keep on Running is even more convincing, being so consistently presented and wonderfully, soulfully wrought.