If there’s a guitarist working right now who I like more than Robben Ford, I’m not sure who it’d be. He’s done so many interesting projects in the past six or seven years – not just his own, but stuff with his brothers and Jing Chi, and studio work that just cooks, that it’d be hard to find a player as consistently good.
Ford’s last solo record, Blue Moon, was his first for Concord, and while I thought it was fine, it lacked the fire and fun of his other solo stuff. That said, this one, Keep On Running, is one of my favorites of his solo career.
The focus here is R&B, and a backward nod to ’60s rock. Nice covers help push the record that way. The Spencer Davis Group’s “Keep on Running” gets a horn-driven push that meshes nicely with funky rhythm guitar and a big, fat Ford-style solo. The O’Jay’s “For the Love of Money” is a song I wouldn’t assume a guy like Robben and the boys would tackle, but it’s turned into a stripped-down, funky workout that really moves.
“Peace, Love, and Understanding,” the Nick Lowe chestnut, becomes a reggae-ish plea, with textbook soulful playing by Robben, and a really nice vocal duet by Robben and Mavis Staples. “Badge” just sounds incredible; the Cream classic takes on an otherworldly feel with dreamy vocals by Robben and what sounds like a chorus of angels. The nasty Robben solo that hints at Clapton (but is Robben all the way) doesn’t hurt either. That’s one cover that could have turned out badly, but really works.
As for originals, these are some of Ford’s best. “Over My Head” is a breezy tale of a fella with a woman he maybe shouldn’t be with. The guitar sings. “Cannonball Shuffle” is a tribute to Freddie King. The instrumental lets Robben showcase those blues, mixed with jazz chops. “Bonnie” is a minor-key story of distrust, and maybe a bit of paranoia. It’s got one of Robben’s best vocals, and trademark guitar.
My absolute favorite is “Me and My Woman.” A slow blues with a great sound. The lyric covers the yin and yang of a very testy relationship in a way that’s very funny, but very real. The altered blues(check out the suspensions for a way to add spice to your blues) gives Robben lots of room to showcase his brilliant playing. The cut’s a real favorite of mine in the entire Robben catalog.
I love this one. This is his best, most consistent record since A Handful of Blues in the mid ’90s. Robben fans will love it, and hopefully new fans will hear it and hop on board.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Jan. ’04 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.