Into The Sun is the follow-up to last year’s A Day in Nashville and 2013’s Bringing It Back Home. On it, you’ll hear guest appearances by Gov’t Mule front man Warren Haynes (“High Heels and Throwing Things”), slide guitar guru Sonny Landreth (“So Long 4 U”), Keb’ Mo’ and Robert Randolph (“Justified”), ZZ Ward (“Breath of Me”) and Southern rocker Tyler Bryant (“Stone Cold Heaven”).
I’m always slightly nervous approaching collaboration albums, particularly in the blues genre. Usually, the integration of blues voice and guitar is such a personal and identifiable thing, that collaboration risks losing or diluting the identity of both players/singers, leaving the songs bland and unengaging. I am delighted to say that with Under The Sun, this hasn’t happened.
I ask myself two questions with collaborations: (1) Are the songs disjointed by having two performers sharing the key duties? Definitely not. Ford is such a versatile guitarist, and he and his guests meet each other half way on everything, so that the styles blend and compliment, and there are no jagged edges as they swap and converse. (2) Could the songs appear on albums by either artist? Definitely yes. The Keb Mo and ZZ Ward tracks in particular are of a style and pace that they could just as easily be lead tracks on the guests’ albums.
I found the overall pitch and pace of the album to be measured, mature and relaxed – not quite the upbeat collection that Ford himself describes, musically at least (lyrically, there’s not a lot of gloomy miserable pondering, so perhaps that’s what he meant?) – and very easy on the ear.
If you’re hoping for wall-to-wall Ford-esque guitar virtuosing (it’s a word!), you won’t find it here. In fact, it wasn’t until track nine that I really felt I was on properly familiar Ford territory, but to be honest, I didn’t mind that at all. I will admit freely that as much as I am constantly impressed with his obvious virtuosity and creativity, some of the “anything-but-blues” blues that litter his previous 34 albums to be a little less soulful than I like.
On the other hand, you won’t find yourself bored by dull, uninventive cliché here either. Personally, I could have done with a couple of 12-bar blues standard forms tucked into the album somewhere, slow or fast, just to satisfy my inner mojo, but hey, I have 2,000-odd other blues albums for that sort of thing.
My constant war cry in the face of torrents of over-anxious blues dudes trying to show off all their tricks in every track is “Yeah, but can you slow down and lay off, and give me some SOUL??” Robben Ford and his mates can, and do, and this album is all the better for it.