All For One boasts a cast of musicians of whom Ross has developed a strong rapport from touring – pianist Chris Pattishall, guitarist Rick Lollar (both of whom played on the 2015 debut), bassist Barry Stephenson, and Cory Irvin on Hammond organ and Fender Rhodes. Ross is particularly enthusiastic with the addition of Irvin on the organ because he likens that instrument to an orchestra that would accompany jazz singers like Frank Sinatra or Billie Holiday. "When I first added the organ in my band, I was inspired by Marvin Gaye’s 1964 LP, When I’m Alone I Cry,” Ross explains. "[On that album] he sings jazz standards with a full orchestra. The organ is like my orchestra. The way I use the organ is a very calculated form. It produces the atmosphere throughout the record. And that parallels with how I grew up in church. The organist pulls the emotion out of every tune.”
The disc perfects the intoxicating chemistry of the 29-year-old’s debut, which intermingled blues, jazz, R&B and soul effortlessly. "All For One is literally the second chapter,” Ross explains after comparing the success of his debut and the world tour in support of that album as a "whirlwind of smiles and gratitude.” "There’s no deep way to view All For One other than it being the second chapter of me revealing myself as a man who loves as a father, husband, friend, and brother and as an artist who brings that love to other people while receiving love from my audience.”
For sure, love is a recurring theme on All For One as the material touches on both the romantic kind and the socio-political aspect of love that calls for unity among a diverse and, at times, a divisive community. The album also finds the Jacksonville, Florida born and now New Orleans-based Ross plowing into the rarefied areas of blues and R&B that seldom gets investigated by his peers.
Ross begins the disc with mighty shout out to the Crescent City’s R&B legacy with the vivacious make of "A Mellow Time,” a 1966 tune written by Allen Toussaint and made famous by Lee Dorsey. "I’m the biggest Lee Dorsey fan and I’m a huge Allen Toussaint fan,” Ross enthuses. "A lot of tunes like this taught me how to write. I want to write songs that have stories inspired by love.
The title track – "All For One” – is another Big Easy-based song; it’s a rare groover written and recorded in 1993 by Wilson Turbinton, better known as Willie Tee. The lyrics’ plead for love takes on both amorous and socio-political overtones that spills over to other songs on the album, such as Ross’ splendid rendition of Mose Allison’s 1968 classic, "Everybody’s Cryin’ Mercy.” "It’s a rough time in America. It’s that simple,” Ross explains. "I know a lot of Mose Allison’s music. I like the way that he could talk the blues. He didn’t sing the blues; he talked the blues. That song has such a pivotal message for where we are right now as a nation.”
Fats Waller’s 1936’s "Let’s Sing Again,” which closes All For One is another old-school gem. On Ross’ makeover, his sanguine singing soars atop of Irvin’s churchy organ accompaniment – a strategic move that tips its hat pays to Waller’s church roots in New York as well as Ross’ background in Jacksonville, Florida, where he grew up singing in his grandfather’s church.
Ross also delves into jazz standards on All For One with his haunting reading of "Don’t Go to Strangers,” a ballad written by Arthur Kent and Dave Mann and made famous in 1960 by Etta Jones, and his alluring version of Ira Gershwin and Kurt Weill’s 1941 classic, "My Ship,” which gains a subtle country vibe thanks for Lollar’s guitar yawns. "I don’t do a lot of jazz standards. The covers that I do come more from the obscure blues realm,” Ross says. "But I honestly love singing ‘Don’t Go to Strangers.’ I sang it at NPR’sJazz Night in America tribute to Rudy Van Gelder Concert. That song taught me a lot about phrasing, which I used on ‘My Ship.’”
All For One contains some exquisite originals too. The gentle, blues-tinted ballad "Unspoken” is a song Ross penned for his wife, Adrienne, to express his enduring love for her while he’s on the road. The jaunty "Call Me” is another original written with Ross’ wife in mind. The backstory of "Call Me” involves his wife phoning him while he was in the middle of crafting an infectious boogaloo drum groove. Instead of getting frustrated by the interruption, Ross allows the phone call from his wife to become an inspirational force. Ross dedicates the melancholy "Away” to his daughter, Jazz Aubrielle as he conveys missing her while he’s constantly on the road and reminding her that his love for her is unending.
The soothing bossa nova, "Safe in Arms of Love,” co-written with Lollar and Joshua Starkman, and the somber, wordless vocalese ballad "Tears and Questions” find Ross turning his attention back to more socio-political issues. Both songs were written while he was touring Australia with Nicholas Payton then receiving news of the 2016 police killing of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge. Ross’ soul-infused "Keep On” offers encouraging balm in the face of tragic upheaval.
Besides the wordless "Tears and Questions,” All For One contains no instrumentals like its predecessor; nor does it explicitly showcases Ross’ virtuosity as a drummer. "I started touring and playing on a constant basis with my band. That didn’t happen before I made my first record,” Ross explains. "So playing instrumentals was part of my development then. I feel now, I don’t have to prove that I can play instrumentals anymore nor do I have to prove my drumming skills. Recording instrumentals is not indicative to what my artistic concept has grown into. This album is a result of a personal revelation that we all have the capacity to love with empathy in a deeper way. The love you need comes from me and the love I need comes from you. All for one, one for all.”
1. A Mellow Good Time
3. Don't Go To Strangers
5. Everybody's Cryin' Mercy
6. Safe In The Arms Of Love
7. Tear And Questions
8. Keep On
9. All For One
10. Call Me
11. True Love (Interlude)
12. My Ship
13. Let's Sing Again