Robben Ford

Soul on Ten

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Some of guitarist Robben Ford's weaknesses, such as song composition and vocals, are rectified or at least made less obvious, on this predominantly live release. On his fourth release for the Concord label, and first live CD in about a decade (although there have been some concert DVDs during that time), Ford is able to cherrypick better material from inconsistent albums, unearth choice covers, and generally broaden the music with his fiery playing. This, along with the natural energy generated by the stage environment, focuses attention on the guitarist's skills as a creative six-string bluesman who expands the somewhat narrow confines of the genre by adding soul and jazz influences. He kicks off the set with a lazy, wah-wah enhanced "Supernatural," the title track to his 1999 disc, and revs up the energy from there, jumping into the instrumental "Indianola." This is where Ford seamlessly combines rock, blues, jazz, and surf into a five-minute tour de force that leads one to believe that a vocal-free show might display his superb guitar talents better than one where he sings. Still, he acquits himself admirably in front of the microphone to pull together "Nothin' to Nobody." That selection from Supernatural is extended to twice its original playing time with an 11-minute version that finds its groove as Ford's guitar spars with Neal Evans' husky B-3 organ and Travis Carlton's (son of Larry) bass solo. Ford is no Howlin' Wolf, or even Jack Bruce, but he tears into "Spoonful" with enough guitar guts to make it easy to ignore his well-meaning if slightly listless vocals and concentrate on the combo's taut playing, led by Ford's tensile, stinging solo. The combination of Elmore James' "Please Set a Date" with Jimmy Reed's "You Don't Have to Go" has Ford diving into traditional Chicago blues, something he does not typically do. Unfortunately, "Earthquake," a new composition in the set (as opposed to two other fresh songs tacked on as studio versions) suffers from the same weak writing that mars much of Ford's work, although his Steely Dan-inspired solo rescues it. The concert portion ends with a rugged, funky "How Deep in the Blues (Do You Want to Go)," a highlight from his previous album Truth performed here with amped up energy. The two original tunes that close out this project are pleasant but superfluous and probably should have been saved for his next studio outing while adding more live performances to this one. Since it clocks in at only 68 minutes, there is room for more material recorded at the same shows.

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