So many young blues phenoms have emerged in recent years that it's easy to forget when guitarist Robben Ford was considered a wunderkind with an exceptional grasp of the fretboard.

While he hasn't lost his virtuosic touch, Ford has developed a more economical approach to playing over the past 25 years.

The result is a sound that balances the kind of fire and finesse evident on his new album, which unfortunately bears the same title as Carlos Santana's chart-topping release, "Supernatural."

Like the recent recordings of Bonnie Raitt and Robert Cray, "Supernatural" is rooted in soul music and will certainly appeal more to R&B fans than to blues purists.

Southern soul horn, keyboard and vocal charts punctuate the album, and Ford often seems more interested in making the lyrics count than in demonstrating his guitar skills. While he's hardly a commanding vocalist, he infuses most of the songs here with sufficient emotion to sustain interest until his guitar asserts itself.

Given the album's pop-soul sheen, it isn't surprising that former Doobie Brother Michael McDonald co-wrote two songs with Ford--"Nothing to Nobody" and "Water for the Wicked," or that he also contributed background vocals to "Deaf, Dumb and Blind."

The string arrangements by Roger Kellaway are tasteful, if not hardly crucial to the album's success, and the album's final tracks -- Ford's impassioned "When I Cry Today" and cover versions of Paul Butterfield's "Lovin' Cup" and Arthur Alexander's "You Got Me Knockin' "--add some welcome grit and funk to the mix.

Appearing with Soulive Tuesday at the Ram's Head Tavern and Wednesday at the Birchmere.

To hear a free Soundbite from Robben Ford, call Post-Haste at 202/334-9000 and press 8106. (Prince William residents, call 690-4110.)