While the blues revival of the ’80’s and ’90’s has waned considerably thanks to touring costs, the age of the artists and a handful of other factors, there is a plethora of blues releases coming out on a regular basis. Whether it’s because the blues speaks to all facets of life like a universal language or if the form is easily understood is unknown. Hell, it could be because three chords are easier to play than five so let’s get a band together and bash out some jams etc. etc. No one will ever know for sure. What I do know is few blues releases stand out like the albums by T-Model Ford. Though the blues is a “truth-telling” sort of music if you get my meaning, Ford tells the truth like no other and when one listens to Ford’s music, one gets the sense Ford has some sort of life lesson to hand down and you better pay attention because if you miss it, you’ll be sorry. At least, that’s the impression I get when listening to his albums.
Though his age is somewhere around the age of 90 (sources differ on exactly how old he is and trying to get Ford to tell you a straight story is about as hard as making a politician tell the truth) Ford has only relatively recently become a big name in the blues world. Part of the reason is he took up the guitar and, subsequently, started his musical career very late in life. Discovered and recorded during the ’90’s by onetime Mississippi label Fat Possum (since relocated to the big time music city of LA), Ford is musical kin to the other Mississippi hills bluesmen who also were recorded by the label, such as R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough. Now signed to the wonderful Alive label, who specialize in garage rock, psychedic freakout and other visceral musical forms, Ford has found a label who is willing to pick up where Fat Possum left off and give his powerful blues statements the attention they deserve. No offense to Fat Possum who releases a lot of great music, but when they decided to concentrate more on fad-of-the-day rock and roll and get away from what brought them to the dance, they made a grave mistake. Especially in letting Ford go. While not an artist who is going to make a huge sales impact or get tons of radio play, Ford is a heritage artist who commands respect and will sell for perpetuity and not be tied down to a specific fad. Ford’s music is universal and accessible to anyone, no matter the race or age. If you breathe, if you hurt, if you love – you will be affected by Ford’s music as it speaks to the human condition and does so in a way that will cut deep into your soul if you let it.
And speaking of the human condition, if this album has a sense or urgency to it (and it does) it may be because Ford had been having heart problems which necessitated a pacemaker being installed during the recording of this album. Not that you could tell from listening to Ford, who lays down his vocals with all the power and expressiveness one can expect from a man with a lifteime full of stories and the desire to get them all out. Accompanied by his backup band GravelRoad, Ford cut his vocals in one marathon session, live to tape with no overdubs or any Pro-tools or any other kind of studio tricks the young’uns rely upon but any true musician should never need, and one can even hear the occasional wisecrack or comment from Ford in between songs, giving the album a real loose feel, as if we were invited into the session. Any album by Ford is loaded with his own special brand of charisma, but this album stands tall as one of his best as despite any health problem he had, the man is ON. And even more interesting, he KNOWS it and uses this knowledge to push himself to an even greater performance than usual.
This may come as no surprise, but I think this CD is pretty damn cool. I have listened to the blues pretty extensively over the years and though I do not listen to blues at this time as much as I have in the past, the artists I tend to run across currently are very derivative and often are coasting on the structure of the blues, in that they are very respectful of the form and do very little to “upset the apple cart” as it were. Not Ford. While some will listen and no doubt hear Ford’s music and think he is just another country bluesman, if one were to take more than a cursory listen to his music, one would notice Ford playing with the form quite a bit and though steeped in tradition, has an attitude about his music and the way it is presented which says modern in the same way Johnny Cash made his last few albums before his passing. Ford is able to use his age to add nuances and hues to the blues most artists can’t grasp. Give Ford’s deep,.deep blues a deep, deep listen and I think you will find yourself as enamored with his music as I am.