Review: ‘Made to Last’ — Robben Ford is second to none

Tahoe Onstage

Robben Ford appeared in Tahoe with his Guitar Army in 2016.
Kurt Johnson / Tahoe Onstage

Each of the five songs on Robben Ford’s “Made To Last” EP rank among his most striking performances. That speaks volumes, because the influential blues and jazz-inspired guitarist from Northern California has been well active for nearly 50 years.

Robben FordFord cut these songs off the cuff after completing the sessions for “Supremo,” his latest Jing Chi jazz/fusion album with Jimmy Haslip and Vinnie Colaiuta. What was intended as a Chicago-style blues workout ended up rich, varied, funky, and even revolutionary (in Ford’s subtle, inimitable ways). There are no keyboards, but instead a fine rhythm guitarist in Casey Wasner, who plays stealthily and wonderfully within the grooves. Bassist Brian Allen and drummer Wes Little complete the tough rhythm core, and Jeff Coffin of Bela Fleck & The Flecktones plays sax. Like Ford, Coffin coaxes natural, but highly unique and enthralling sounds from his instrument.

The set begins with Lightnin’ Hopkins’ “Good Times.” A rather dangerous-sounding opening riff to the tune turns into a major showcase for Ford’s blistering heat on guitar. The mood then lightens considerably for Willie Dixon’s “Crazy For My Baby,” which finds Ford and Coffin dueling over a walking beat inspired by Little Walter’s 1961 recording of the song. Surely, though, nothing like this was heard in any Chicago nightspot in the ’60s. Ford uses what’s called a POG to create the sound of three notes at once, and Coffin makes himself into a “horn section” by doubling or tripling his playing in the mix.

Next, Ford’s own “Somebody’s Fool” moves on a supremely funky bed of rhythm, and “Automobile Blues,” another by Lightnin’ Hopkins, plays out as a jazzy/funky late night blues. Solos are in abundance, and ideally mirror the emotions exhibited in the songs. Although fascinating from start to finish, the crisp, punchy production ups the ante and adds much to the experience. Simple in design, yet complex in the delivery, Robben Ford sure made sure that “Made To Last” was blues music made to last.

-Tom Clarke

Robben Ford
‘Made To Last’
Label:
Sweetwater
Release: April 6, 2018
Purchase: iTunes, Amazon

About Tom Clarke

From pre-war blues to the bluegrass of the Virginia hills, Tom Clarke has a passion for most any kind of deep-rooted American music, and has been writing about it for 20 years. He’s particularly fond of anything from Louisiana, and the 45-year timelines and ever-growing family trees of The Allman Brothers Band and Los Lobos.Tom’s reviews and articles have appeared in BluesPrint, the King Biscuit Times, Hittin’ The Note, Blues Revue, Elmore, Blues Music Magazine, and now, Tahoe Onstage.Tom and his wife Karen raised four daughters in upstate New York. They split their time between the Adirondack Mountains and coastal South Carolina.

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