The premise of the Autour Du Blues DVD was to stage a transatlantic blues summit for the 25th anniversary of Paris’ New Morning club in December ’06, teaming the group of France’s studio players with American guitar legends Larry Carlton and Robben Ford. If the cover photograph, showing seven guitarists onstage at once, sets off an alarm (as it should), be informed that that cluster pluck was only for the finale – although the number of six-stringers playing musical chairs at any given time fluctuates between three and four (which I think we can all agree is at least one too many).
The players all exhibit enough taste to match their chops, though, and stay out of each other’s way. The Parisian guitarists – Danys Lable, Claude Engel, Michael Jones, and Patrick Verbeke – are obviously first-rate, as is singer/keyboardist Slim Batteux. The problem is the repertoire – varying from “standard” to tired. Yet another version of “Stormy Monday” or “Rock Me Baby” is almost by definition doomed to descend into the dreaded “blues jam.” Because of that, the more atypical numbers, like J.B. Lenoir’s “Down In Mississippi,” Francis Gabrel on vocals and acoustic, come off best.
And, ultimately, jamming on a bunch of blues standards isn’t much of a challenge for Carlton or Ford, although Carlton transcends Ray Charles’ “Blackjack” and Ford pushes the envelope on “Reconsider Baby.” The pair easily demonstrates who the legends are onstage. It would have been nice if more time had been invested into choosing material and arrangements.
The “Revisited” in the title of the Robben Ford DVD refers to the fact that a separate installment of the same German TV show, “Ohne Filter,” has already been released. In fact, this 1997 appearance falls between Blue Line’s 1993 In Concert and a 2001 New Morning
Having just recorded Tiger Walk, the set is evenly split between its instrumentals and vocals from 1995’s Handful Of Blues. Fronting a quartet (with drummer Gary Novak, bassist Chris Chaney, and keyboardist Deron Johnson), Ford turns in his best performance of any of the DVDs. Instrumentals like the energetic opener, “Just Like It Is,” show off his jazz and funk sides, while vocals like the melodic “When I Leave Here” (reminiscent of “Little By Little”) give full rein to his second-nature blues chops – although Robben has always blurred the lines between those camps.
“The Miller’s Son,” the one instrumental from Handful, is an unabashed reworking of “Steppin’ Out,” in homage to Eric Clapton. As usual, Ford pulls out all the stops, and the band alternately hangs on for the ride and pushes him ever higher.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s July. ’08 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.