Although genre-melding guitarist Robben Ford describes his latest album as “a real departure from tradition in terms of the songwriting” (“tradition” referring to the strong blues and rhythm-and-blues elements that often serve as the basis of Ford’s music), Purple House (earMUSIC) isn’t really all that far off from what we’re accustomed to hearing from Ford. Despite an increased emphasis on the production side this time around, Purple House (named after the studio in Tennessee where much of the album was recorded) in the end still boils down to Ford’s same reliable formula of smooth vocals and fusion of rock, jazz and blues grooves to help make it another album very much worth checking out.
While it’s true that Ford can at times gravitate to the mellower side, and certainly does here on tracks like the slow, dark and simple “Empty Handed” with its jazzy, cavernous sound and breezy, swaying “Wild Honey”, Purple House as a whole is probably one of the most diverse and captivating of albums we’ve heard from Ford. In addition to guest appearances that include “Queen of the Blues” Shemekia Copeland, who joins Ford for a duet on the slow, somewhat gritty “Break in the Chain”, and Bishop Gunn’s Drew Smithers, who contributes additional guitar on “Willing to Wait”, the album also offers a terrific range of songs, from those softer aforementioned ballads to rockers such as the midtempo opener “Tangle With Ya”, funky “Cotton Candy”, and closing, hard-edged “Somebody’s Fool” that Bishop Gunn lead vocalist Travis McCready helps give a Lance Lopez-like sound to match Ford’s tough licks.
Another thing we really like about this album is the inclusion of two tenor saxophonists, something, according to Ford, that was inspired at least in part by some blues classics: “I’ve always loved the sound of the early 1960s Chess records, Howlin’ Wolf’s in particular. He used two tenors, probably because that’s all they had, but that sound is something that I’ve always really loved.” One of our favorite examples of those horns here can be found on the slow-burning “What I Haven’t Done”, with a breezy, vintage guitar-laced “Bound for Glory” rounding out the nine-track offering.
Filled with lots of groovy hooks and interesting transitions, and shades of The Moody Blues, ZZ Top, The Edgar Winter Group, and more, Ford’s Purple House is one you’re definitely going to want to visit!