Into The Sun
Release Date: March 31, 2015
Review Date: March 29, 2015
The new album from guitar virtuoso, Robben Ford, Into The Sun is nothing short of brilliant. This latest work shines a bright light on his artful, contemporary songwriting and the stunning playing that’s made him a favorite foil of Miles Davis, Joni Mitchell, George Harrison and other legends. If you’ve never heard his solo work before, Into The Sun will make you a fan for life and send you scrambling to acquire all of his previous work.
Yeah, it’s that great!
In fact, the five-time Grammy nominee describes the 11-song set as “one of the top recordings I’ve ever done” — which is saying a lot considering his extensive discography, which embraces more than 35 albums under his own name and with his various bands.
As if that’s not enough to make your musical head spin, there’s also Ford’s session and sideman work. He’s been heard at hundreds of concert appearances and his work has graced albums by Bonnie Raitt, Barbara Streisand, Charlie Musselwhite, KISS, Ruthie Foster, the late Jimmy Witherspoon, and Rickie Lee Jones.
Into The Sun, follows last year’s critically acclaimed A Day In Nashville and 2013’s Bringing It Back Home. You don’t have to get through the entire album to see that it explores the breadth of Ford’s sophisticated, visionary writing and playing, creating a new chapter in his brilliant musical history.
The CD features a ton of his buds in the music world. Greats like Allman Brothers guitarist and Gov’t Mule frontman, Warren Haynes (on “High Heels And Throwing Things”), slide guitar guru Sonny Landreth (on “So Long 4 U”), the great Americana and blues icon Keb’ Mo’ and pedal steel wizard Robert Randolph (both on “Justified”), the lovely and talented vocal sensation, ZZ Ward, on “Breath Of Me," as well as the young, up and coming Southern rock guitar slinger from Texas, Tyler Bryant, on “Stone Cold Heaven.” The engineering knobs were turned by Niko Bolas - a collaborator of Ford’s since his all-instrumental 1997 album Tiger Walk and whose other credits include Neil Young, John Mayer, and Keith Richards.
“Niko is simply the best tracking engineer I’ve ever encountered,” says Ford. “He gets great sounds instantly.” Guitar players and tone geeks will greatly appreciate Bolas’ skill in capturing Ford’s glorious guitar tones derived from four of his go-to instruments: a pair of Gibson SG’s from 1963 and 1964, his beloved 1960 Telecaster and his Gibson B-25 acoustic. As he’s done on every album he’s made since 1983, Ford used a Dumble Overdrive Special amplifier.
“The album is really upbeat,” Ford relates. “It has a positive vibe to it — a good time feel. There are a lot of different rhythms and colors and the way the instruments are used is really different on this. It makes me very happy to have something so diverse.”
Ford’s recent releases have been hailed as returns to his musical roots — which go back to his discovery of blues as a teenager in the 1960s. However, Into The Sun is a clear departure, using tradition as a springboard to incorporate his timeless vocabulary of jazz, pop, blues and rock into a modern framework for his poetic lyrics and the most graceful, emotionally nuanced and melodic vocal performances of his career.
“This album is obviously of these times,” Ford says. “And the rule during the recording process was to have no lid on things. I’ve worked very hard to master my craft as a musician and a songwriter, but other than relying on my strengths in those areas, I made sure there was room for new ideas and everything my collaborators brought to the music. When you’re open to different concepts and approaches, the most beautiful things can happen.”
All of the music and most of the lyrics from Into The Sun came directly from Ford, but he also collaborated with ZZ Ward (did I tell you that she’s lovely and talented? Well, she is!) on “Breath Of Me” and enlisted the enigmatic Kyle Swan, whose own recordings liberally mix images and styles to build articulate modernist-pop tone poems. That quality reverberates in the four songs Ford co-wrote with Swan, married to the guitar giant’s own deep commitment to narrative. “Working with Kyle was part of my desire to toss up everything and see what might happen, to get a fresh perspective,” says Ford.
If you listen to just one song before making the decision to purchase this album, then “Justified” is the song. As stated earlier, Keb’ Mo’ and Ford are all over this song. They exchange tongue-in-cheek vocal lines as Randolph adds soaring pedal steel punctuation over Jim Cox’s purposefully wobbly honky tonk piano.
“For me,” Ford says, “it’s all about the art. If you work hard at something you’re going to get better. I honestly think I reached a point with my writing on Into The Sun where I could just go with the flow and bring some of the best songs I’ve ever created to life.”
You can keep up with Robben and all that he's working on musically at Robbenford.com.