Handful of Blues – Robben Ford & The Blue Line

Handful of Blues

Robben Ford & The Blue Line

Universal Classics & Jazz

1995

So, I’m not much of a blues listener.  Like at all.  I respect it, seeing as how all rock and roll pretty much evolved from a mix of blues and jazz, but really most blues I find astonishingly boring.  Really.  Strangely, the blues that I do listen to is made mostly by white guys – Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jack White.  However, my favorite is Robben Ford (look at that, he’s the subject of today’s post! See how well that turns out?).  Why do I listen to white guys playing the blues?  I don’t really know – I mean, I do like B.B. King and Hendrix, but honestly, most blues I just painful to listen to. 

Anyway, Robben Ford has pretty much stayed well in the background of popular music.  He’s by no means obscure, but he’s sinfully underrated.  He’s played with Miles Davis, Joni Mitchell, Gregg Allman, Phil Lesh, and even George Harrison.  The guy’s been around.  And yet, he remains minimally noticed.  Handful of Blues is one of those albums that has largely slipped by the general public (Hell, there’s not even a Wikipedia article on it), which is a shame because his guitar playing is phenomenal on it.

The song “Rugged Road” leads off the album, just like most albums should be led off – with kick-ass rock.  This is the blues that I’m most attracted to: hard riffs, talented guitar licks, and upbeat tempos where the entire band sounds enthused.  While most blues singers sound like old black guys (which is awesome, no doubt!), Ford sounds like the whitey he is – which I like.  He’s not trying to copy his influences, instead he’s turning one of the oldest genres into his own.  He fits this song around his thought-out guitar, and never once sounds like there’s a mistake; Ford plays with an utmost confidence.

“Chevrolet” is an old song, that Ford and his band cover here.  The drums keep great time while providing an entertaining shuffle.  But, honestly, you don’t listen to Ford’s music for drums or other “lesser” instruments.  It’s all about the guitar.  He uses standard pentatonic scales for most of his solo here, but he makes every note, every riff, every line as melodic and lyrical as possible.  While his voice isn’t bad, the guitar is perhaps more suited to expressing the mood of the song.  And it works perfectly.

The third song brings the album down slower with “When I Leave Here,” a standard-sounding blues tune.  Actually written by Ford, it’s composed around a chord-based guitar riff and not the normal power chord blues-based backing rhythm.  Again, Ford’s guitar solo is very soulful.  If you read this review and only remember one thing, let it be this: Robben Ford is one of the best guitar players because of all the feeling he puts into his instrument.  Seriously, he may not shred like every ’80’s hair-band member, he may not be as innovative as Vai or Satriani, but Ford has one of the best sounding guitar sounds out there, due solely to his feel of the instrument.

“The Miller’s Son” is an all-instrumental track designed solely to showcase more of Ford’s guitar.  Seriously, if you don’t like guitar solos, just don’t listen to this album.  But that’s preposterous – who doesn’t like guitar solos? (Answer: Communists) (Also, I think there should be more blues songs devoted to singing about Communists.  Just saying, I might listen to the genre a bit more.)

Next is my favorite song on the album, “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.”  Another cover song, it was written originally for Nina Simone in 1964, though it’s more well-known as The Animals’ song.  But here, Ford brings a great rendition.  This is what the blues is about, feeling bitter and hating yourself.  Ok, maybe not hating yourself.  More like regretting things that you’ve done.  The lyrics express perfectly the entire idea of the blues.  Meanwhile, Ford’s voice fits very well, and again his guitar is utterly amazing.  This has to be the most passionate solo on Handful of Blues.

“Top of the Hill,” “Good Thing,” and the album closer “Strong Will to Live” are more basic blues songs, with triumphant guitars.  I’m skipping over them, not because they’re bad, but because I have nothing else to say about them besides the already way-too repeated “awesome guitar, man, awesome fucking guitar.”

“Running Out On Me” has a syncopated riff which starts the song off really well.  And some of the chord changes in the song, sound very interesting.  But what is the best thing is the harmonica/guitar thing.  I can’t honestly figure out if he made a harmonica sound like an electric guitar or an electric guitar sound like a harmonica.  It really confounds me.  Just listen to the introduction – if it’s a harmonica, then he must’ve installed a whammy bar on it (which sounds ludicrous.  A more likely theory is that I don’t know how to play harmonica and that might actually be possible to create those sounds.  But, I much prefer imagining a Floyd Tremolo hanging on the side of a mouth organ, making the contraption look extremely complex, especially with that ridiculous harmonica holder that you strap on around your neck.  What I’m trying to say in this extremely long aside is that I’d love to play something like that.).

“Tired of Talkin'” is the next song.  You remember those power chord rhythms I looked down upon before?  Yeah, he uses them here.  Which goes to show you, it’s not what you play, it’s how you play it.  Here he has a boogie-shuffle going on, which makes the song more interesting than it would’ve been had it just been straightforward.  And they are really useful with guitar playing, anyone has to admit.

“Think Twice” shows off a different side of Ford’s guitar playing.  This is more of a funk based song.  The bass guitar is actually playing a really cool riff in this track, which is the only time I’ve noticed the instrument thus far on the album. 

The last song to discuss is “I Just Want To Make Love To You.”  Which I believe is about sexing up women all the time.  Seriously, the lyrics follow the basic pattern of “I don’t want you to bake my bread, I don’t want you to make my bed, I don’t want you ’cause I’m sad and blue, I just want to make love to you.”  Come on, I Think I speak for every guy when I say this is all men want.  We’d rather just be doin’ it all the time then have to wear clothes or hear about women’s complaints of “work[ing] all day.”  And of course, Ford’s guitar solo is quite inspired, mimicking the sleazyness of the vocals and lyrics. 

Handful of Blues may not be a very well-known album, but it surely is one that a lot of effort was put forth into making.  The Blue Line works well as a band, melding into each other’s sounds, but the entire reason to listen to this album is Robben Ford.  He brings an eclectic look at blues-based music, sometimes rocking, sometimes wallowing in it’s built-in self-despair.  But no matter what he’s doing, he keeps every song interesting and fun to listen to.  No one phrases notes the way that he does, and his own compositions fit right next to the covers that he chooses.  With most blues records, I normally would say how slow the songs go by, but at twelve tracks, Handful of Blues minimizes the boring aspects and goes by easily. 

Buy This Album

Official Site

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2 Responses to “Handful of Blues – Robben Ford & The Blue Line”

  1. well thanks man, robben ford is awesome

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