Type: Progressive Jazz/Rock
I find myself disappointed in this album. I have been a fan of Robben Ford for many years, and have always enjoyed his releases with The Blue Line and his guest appearances with artists like Joni Mitchell, Bonnie Raitt and Miles Davis. I feel that he is at his best when fronting The Blue Line, singing the blues in his bell-clear voice and adding staccato punctuation with his guitar.
Unfortunately, he doesn't sing on this album. And the Blue Line is on haitus.
Instead, we find the Expensive Winos (Steve Jordan, drums, and Charlie Drayton, bass) taking up the daunting task of backing one of the best guitar phraseologists of our time. (No, I don't consider their normal frontman, Keith Richards, to be in the same class as Ford.) As I listen to this CD, I long for Roscoe Beck's bass fills and Tom Brechtlein's rock-solid drumming. Jordan's drums (especially the snare) are too loud in the mix, and occasionally I find myself listening more to them than Robben Ford's playing; this is not good! On the other side of the rhythm section, Drayton's bass playing has little energy and does not adequately fill the spaces that Ford intentionally leaves in his playing to add variety and focus to the music. Beck, having played with Ford for years, knows when it is appropriate for him to step up and when to hang back. Drayton never takes the chance to step up.
In other areas of the rhythm section, Bernie Worrell fills most of the keyboard duties, and does so very well. He is joined by Ford's long time friend and former bandmate Russell Ferrante on "The Champ," a bluesy funk where Ford is able to stretch out a little against the backdrop of the lineup.
Throughout, Ford's playing is typically stellar. He describes himself as a "melodist," a player who strives to produce quality notes and phrases rather than just blitzing back and forth across the strings and calling it a solo. He is melodic throughout, but the band (with the exception of Worrell and Ferrante) is not able to support him correctly and the music occasionally feels flat.
The best track on the album is "Red Lady w/Cello," a song Ford wrote in honor of Michelle N'Dgiocello, who he says creates some of the best grooves he has ever heard. The band is able to get behind him on this song and support the energy level better than on any of the other songs. Ford has stated that this is his favorite track off the CD as well.
According to Ford, he felt he needed to produce an instrumental album without The Blue Line in order to stretch out a little. He felt like he was stagnating after so many years with the same players, and wanted to stir the creative process a little. This was good for Brechtlein and Beck as well, because it gave them the opportunity to tour with Eric Johnson, another guitar virtuoso whose style requires that talented people be with him on the stage. Beck counts himself lucky that he has gotten to play extensively with two of the best guitarists in the world. Perhaps this is a good thing for all involved.
Still, I can't help thinking that many of the songs, especially the title track, would benefit from the expertise of The Blue Line. Perhaps on his next album he will bring The Blue Line back and we will get to hear these songs with Beck and Brechtlein on tour.
Rating (out of a possible five):