Robben Ford and the Blue Line

Backstage Cafe, June 14

By Michael Campbell

In a genre packed with pretenders, blues/rock/fusion guitarist Robben Ford manages to deliver innovation and originality. His music career credentials stretch back to touring and recording with Joni Mitchell at the height of her popularity and to her flirtations with jazz, pop, and confessional folk musics in the mid 1970's. He has since been in demand as a session guitarist, and as the leader of the Blue Line, the ensemble that performed with him on this night.

Robben had last performed in Louisville a few summers back at our sorely missed KFC Music Festival (along with fellow guitar greats Buddy Guy, David Grissom, Hiram Bullock, and Mike Stern), and his growth as a performer was impressive. First, there was his extensive catalogue of guitar chops delivered with delightful unpredictability. Even within the confines of a traditional I-IV-V twelve-bar blues progression, Ford would throw in a blazing pentatonic run, or a twisting diminished riff to keep the listener on their toes. On the selection "Start It Up," he vamped like the late Danny Gatton, without going over the top; during a medley that included a Bill Evans segue, he played lyrically like Santana, without ever evoking a direct comparison.

A subtle, but significant, part of Ford's presentation was the tone of his guitar: warm and clear, with enough presence to let the audience catch the raised fifth on a passing chord, and enough fire to ignite his slashing runs. Effects, such as a volume pedal, were applied purposefully and colorfully. Although there's no way one would ever mistake Robben's vocals for Buddy Guy, or John Hammond, they worked well; he did not attempt to sound black. He (with help from rock solid bassist Roscoe Beck) employs a sincere, relaxed approach to their blues based material

The band closed a well received eighty-minute set with its most straight ahead blues, "It's Time to Go." But it wasn't.

Encore, y'know.