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Robben Ford fills his music with intensity but lacks emotional truth

Robben Ford & The Blue Line
Robben Ford and The Blue Line.
Stretch Records.

By Douglas D. Keller
Photography Editor

Robben Ford is back with his trio The Blue Line in this follow-up to his 1988 Grammy-nominated solo album Talk to Your Daughter. Robben Ford & The Blue Line is a focused blues-rock album powered by Ford's strong and distinctive guitar. His guitar work is reminiscent of Stevie Ray Vaughn, but with a more polished tone.

The album moves from smooth blues to pumping intensity, sometimes within a song, as in "You Cut Me to the Bone." It contains seven new tracks written by Robben Ford and two covers -- John Hiatt's "I'm a Real Man," and Otis Rush's "My Love Will Never Die." All of the tracks feature Ford's guitar, Blue Line bassist Roscoe Beck and drummer Tom Brechtlein.

Ford's name should sound familiar to jazz, rock, and blues aficionados because of his work with Miles Davis, George Harrison, and Muddy Waters. He used to be a member of the Yellowjackets and has also worked with Joni Mitchell. The songs on the album, however, are more focused on blues-rock of the style made popular by Stevie Ray Vaughn. The first track on the album, "The Brother," is dedicated to Jimmie and Stevie. Ford proves himself adept at composing songs which are singularly bluesy, such as "Tell Me I`m Your Man," a smooth pick-up song . But tracks such as "Step On It" are filled with an explosive intensity which at times reminded me of Joe Satriani.

Blues is a music of suffering (witness the painful lyrics of Eric Clapton), but Ford seems distanced from his pain. His playing calls to mind Vaughn's piercing guitar solos, but Ford's voice doesn't deliver on the suffering his lyrics and music propose. In "Prison of Love," Ford sings of being left by a woman and locked in the prison of love, but his voice doesn't convey the pain of being jilted.

The album remains powerful thanks to the instrumental strengths of The Blue Line trio and it is a joy to listen to, but its evocation of Satriani and Vaughn shows that Ford still has a distance to go in defining his own blues voice. Still, his ability to blend rock and blues indicates a promising future in blues for Robben Ford and The Blue Line.