Robben Ford is in this weird place. On the surface, he can be tossed aside as a 60’s folk-rock throwback artist. His sound does not fit the contemporary world littered with pop & blues, country pop, and pop pop. Robben Ford unfairly has been held down to this throwback status, an artist for people that want to hear their favorite artists but can’t because they are too expensive or long passed away. Ford does little to dissuade that career stereotype. He complains about that very topic, and explores disconnection in a movement he helped facilitate. Don’t look at me. 2014’s A Day in Nashville featured calculated folk ballads and sentimental tunes amidst this aura of “better days.” ‘Different People’ could be seen as a song about nostalgic love forever lost, but it isn’t a far cry to say it is about country and folk moving on. ‘Cut You Loose’ addresses the topic with the most directness. A Day in Nashville is a perspective on current country culture, filtered through classic metaphors of young beautiful women in ‘Midnight Comes Too Sun’ and the running away from near alcoholism in ‘Ain’t Drinkin Beer No More.’ Ford suggests, with little subtly, that this world may be passing him by. He is making music forty years too late.
Robben Ford wants to fit in with contemporary culture, and he seems to manage that, at least partly, with 2015’s Into the Sun. The title suggests he is returning to some kind of natural roots. But he has always been there. Now it is about taking that adoration for 60’s culture and asking, how can I make this new and revitalizing instead of hocky and ‘classic?’
Robben Ford manages to snag ZZ Ward for a funky ballad with ‘Breathe of Me.’ ZZ Ward has a Janis Joplin-esque quality to her. Everyone wants to say this about a female singer in the folk genre, and it is one-sighted. She manages her energy and youthfulness, but she isn’t controlled by some hipster fashion sentiment. Her voice is subdued when it needs to be, but infused with this powerful backbone. The fascinating part of her own solo career is she can compare with a poppy Sara Bereilles or a classic country Miranda Lambert and feel completely in place. Long story short, it makes ‘Breathe of Me’ the best song of the lot.
In Ford’s older age, he is less reclusive and more spiritedly. He is the antithetical example to Tom Waits dark cynicism or Leonard Cohen’s polarization with death and finality. Ford offers upbeat positivism- layered with guest spots and soothing guitar work that is not old or throwback. It sounds very much like now- right now- not concerned with finality or doom or respecting a 60’s era but about seeing where this crazy world can go.
Ryan Merkel is a cool writer guy and contributor all over the internet, from blogs on music to magazines about music to sites about playing music. He is currently founder of SunState Investing and is head editor of the music entertainment magazine, CultureTease. He has written two novels, and is currently working on a third full-length novel, surprisingly, not about music. His novel “Splatter the Noise” earned accolades for independent publishing. Be sure to check out: www.sunstateinvesting.com
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