Robben Ford's last studio effort, 2007's Truth, received a Grammy nomination for best contemporary blues album. Where that recording focused on his workmanlike songwriting skills and his prodigious guitar technique, Bringing It All Back Home highlights other aspects of his musical persona. This is Ford putting on offer his considerable skills as a bandleader and song interpreter.
There's not a lot of superpicker athleticism on display here, and there doesn't need to be. Backed a smoking band that includes organist Larry Goldings, drummer Harvey Mason, bassist David Pilch, and trombonist Stephen Baxter, Ford makes it look easy. On this series of mainly cover tunes, his modern blues is infused with his love of New Orleans' R&B throughout. This is especially true on the slippery, punchy, readings of Allen Toussaint's "Everything I Do Gonna Be Funky" and "Fair Child" -- two of the first three tunes here -- that are simultaneously polished and greasy.
One of the three guitar burners here is "Trick Bag," by NOLA guitar hero Earl King. It showcases the locked-in interplay between Pilch and Baxter as they ride atop Mason's funky butt breakbeats. Even Bob Dylan's "Most Likely You Go Your Way and Iíll Go Mine" gets a second-line backbeat treatment. Another guitar highlight, albeit a gorgeously relaxed one, is an instrumental update of the traditional "On That Morning," wherein Ford expertly channels his inner Wes Montgomery. On "Slick Capers Blues," by little known pre-war bluesman Charlie "Little Buddy" Doyle, he and Goldings trade knotty lines in updating the tune for the new century. A great surprise here is how fine a singer Ford has become. His voice is as much an instrument on this set as his guitar is. Whether it's on the aforementioned cuts, his version of wife Ann Kerry Ford's and Michael McDonald's jazzy "Travelerís Waltz," or his Mose Allison-by-way-of-Ben Sidran reading of "Fool's Paradise," his vocals are expressive and relaxed; he displays sophisticated, savvy, seemingly effortless phrasing. The grain of his voice on the lone original, "Oh, Virginia," establishes a seamless connection between Southern soul, New Orleans rhythm & blues, and country music -- and may be the finest song he's written.
There is a precedent for Bringing It All Back Home: Lowell George's classic, Thanks, Iíll Eat It Here. That album was misunderstood upon release because it downplayed the artist's slide guitar and songwriting chops to focus on his consummate skill as a singer. Ford has done something similar, yet offers his fans enough of his instrumental talent to balance the equation. ~ Thom Jurek
1. Everything I Do Gonna Be Funky
2. Birds Nest Bound
3. Fair Child
4. Oh, Vagina
5. Slick Capers Blues
6. On That Morning
7. Traveler's Waltz
8. Most Likely You Go Your Way and I'll Go Mine
9. Trick Bag
10. Fool's Paradise