Mystic Mile (Stretch)
Robben Ford & the Blue Line

By Bob Bahr

In certain company, the mention of Robben Ford's name makes the eyes light up with excitement. Those are guitar players, every one.

But Mystic Mile demonstrates sides of Ford other than his celebrated guitar playing and the album is stronger for it. For starters, his band, the Blue Line, dazzles. Secondly the songs captivate beyond the guitar parts. And the material's diversity makes it clear that the title of the first cut, "He Don't Play Nuthin' But the Blues," is not about Ford. One may form the assumption that Ford don't play nuthin' but great songs, but he clearly busts out of the restrictive blues genre with Mystic Mile.

Look no further than the second song for proof. "Busted Up" rips off a number of James Brown classics in its funky rhythm. A little wah-wah from Ford doesn't hurt.

"Politician," the third tune, tips a hat to Cream's monster riff blues, but adds nothing save muscle. I still haven't figured out its inclusion.

From then on, the listener plays catchup with Ford. "Worried Life Blues" lays down some straight-ahead blues that is lightened by airy production. Ford's got chops, but he's heard (or perhaps, influenced – I don't know) Anson Funderburgh and Funderburgh's sparse eloquence. There a rc no wasted notes and bassist Roscoe Beck and drummer Tom Brechtlein distinguish themselves as a rhythm section up to the task of fully rounding out a scant trio.

"Misdirected Blues" is brilliant proof that simplicity not only illuminates a good song structure, but crystallizes the basic emotion of the blues. Bare-boned chords ring cleanly above the churning bass and drums, yielding to notey guitar solos that somehow preserve the streamlined spirit. Texas enters the mind again.

Down two cuts to "Trying to Do the Right Thing," Ford' s lead vocals get space for a Latin-paced croon that goes down easy, like indulging one's self with a corny '70s pop song. Of course, the aforementioned guitar players will cling to every masterful note from the six-string, this lesson given by the formidable David Grissom. Lovers will look doe-eyed at the poignant, touching lyrics.

Beck takes over the reins for "Say What's on Your Mind," and suddenly you know what kind of music should be endlessly looped in America's honky-tonks. Yes, that is Grissom on rhythm guitar, giving the now-glazed-over guitar players an embarrassment of ear-hole riches.

"The Plunge" points the album towards its conclusion with a slick, powerful instrumental on the Eric Johnson tip. Not surprisingly, Ford's guitar explorations sneak volumes. more than most vaunted jazz guitarists plying their trade. Still, the track is slick to the point of greasiness.

Maybe it flies in L.A., but we like our blues a little bit dirtier in Kentucky.

The title track closes Mystic Mile, sending it off in a rather spiritual fashion. Blues fans will cling to the very last notes; casual fans may nod off.

If you're going to dive into blues guitar, Mystic Mile is deep enough to keep you from hitting your head. From any vantage point, Robben Ford & the Blue Line have created a solid album that transcends the blues even as it demonstrates, in a fairly slick fashion, the music's best possibilities.