You read about a lot of "comeback" stories in the blues these days, but none are sweeter than the one Robert Ward has written. He first appeared as the leader of the Ohio Untouchables (later to become the Ohio Players) in the early 60s. His trademark vibrato guitar, played through a Magnatone amp, appeared on The Falcons hit "I Found A Love" (sung by the one and only Wilson Pickett), as well as on several solid regional hit (collected on the Relic CD Hot Stuff and well worth seeking out). He also served as a session guitarist for Motown in the 70s, with sessions for the Temptations and the Undisputed Truth before his first wifes death in the late 70s sent him into a tailspin. Rediscovered in 1990, he released the incredible Black Top album Fear No Evil to rave reviews. Since that time, Ward has issued two follow-ups for Black Top, with varying results (mostly positive), but has been relatively quiet since the mid 90s. All that is about to change with the release of his Delmark CD, New Role Soul, which proves to be worth the five-year wait.
New Role Soul shows that Ward hasnt lost a step, either vocally or instrumentally. His singing is as soulful and exuberant as it ever was, and he still has that great watery tone on guitar. His sound is easily the most distinctive of any guitarists playing the blues today. His songwriting (either solo or with his wife, Roberta) is always positive and upbeat, and ranges from soul to gospel (Roberta sings on the stirring gospel number, "Ark of Safety").
Standout tracks include Wards own "Put Yourself In My Place," Eddie Floyds "Never Found A Girl," the funky workout "Somethin Funkys Goin On," and the stunning "Whatever I Receive."
The band provides super backing for Ward, and gets to stretch out a bit on Kenny Burrells "Chittlins Con Carne."
Listening to New Role Soul is like hearing from a dear old friend. It stands, so far, as one of the best blues releases of 2000.
--- Graham Clarke
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