For his new album Bringing It Back Home, guitar kingpin Robben Ford revisits the blues canon and reshapes the roots of his first musical love. The songs Robben selected range from early Delta pioneer Charley Patton’s “Bird’s Nest Bound” to Bob Dylan’s “You Go Your Way and I Go Mine”, and wed the blues’ oldest rural roots with the more urban sounds of classic Stax soul. His band is a hand-picked team of A-list players that include Larry Goldings (organ), Harvey Mason (drums), David Piltch (bass) and Steve Baxter (trombone).
“Bringing It Back Home is the album I really wanted to make right now,” relates Ford, who was once a sideman for Miles Davis and Joni Mitchell. “My concept was to put great players together with songs that have deep roots and rich emotional terrain, and to just let something beautiful happen. As it turns out, that’s exactly what occurred. The results are really pure, and the most fun I’ve had making an album in years.”
Ford says that Miles Davis’ majestic Kind of Blue — a perfect study in how open spaces within the sounds on a recording can establish emotional timbre — was his guidepost for the record. “What I love best about blues and jazz is how great players — like Miles Davis or Jim Hall or Paul Desmond — allow a lot of space in their music. That’s where the beauty happens.”
Robben’s search yielded nuggets by both the revered (New Orleans composer Allen Toussaint’s “Everything I Do Gohn Be Funky”) and the obscure (“lost” R&B singer Willie West’s “Fair Child”). To give every track a common, unifying sound and to streamline the recording process, he used only one guitar: a 1963 Epiphone Rivera which he kept exclusively on the “rhythm” pickup throughout the sessions.
Five-time Grammy nominee Robben Ford developed his reputation in the jazz and pop world of the 1970s and ’80s as a solo artist, a member of the ground-breaking fusion group L. A. Express and a sideman with musical mentors Joni Mitchell, Miles Davis. But he emerged from northern California in the ’60s as part of the Charles Ford Blues Band, where he supported blues legends Jimmy Witherspoon and Charlie Musselwhite, getting a hands-on education in the style. In subsequent years Ford performed with Bonnie Raitt, Bob Dylan, Phil Lesh and a host of others. By the time he joined Miles Davis’ group a decade later, he’d developed a signature approach based on an axis of blues and jazz mastery. When Ford left Davis’ employ after six months of touring, Davis acknowledged the guitarist’s skills by offering him an open door. Robben has recorded eight solo albums, four live recordings, three discs with his group the Blue Line, nine albums with the Ford Brothers.