While the NME and their ilk continue to enforce their unwritten laws about ‘Rock’n’Roll’ (term used very loosely in 2011 parlance) being the domain of people of 21 and under, the Blues thankfully has no such truck with ridiculous ageist tactics. If you want authenticity, you need to get at least three score decades of hard living under your belt in this genre and – preferably – have a reputation for raising hell along the way.
If that’s the case, then one James Lewis Carter Ford – alias T-MODEL FORD – is the living, breathing epitome of The Blues. Pushing 90 years of age, he’s done time for murder and attempted murder along the way and didn’t even pick up a guitar until he was 58. To say he has lived the scenarios he rasps and hollers is putting it mildly, but – in tandem with his whippersnapper henchmen The Gravel Road – he sounds sprightly and enviously energetic on his new album ‘Taledragger’ (sic).
Make no mistake; ‘Taledragger’ is a BLUES record with a capital B. Based around grooves, grunts and guttural yelps, it’s relentlessly live and relentlessly real, landing somewhere between Howlin’ Wolf’s ‘London Sessions’ and RL Burnside and it’s happy to sell its’ soul at any crossroads pact you care to mention.
Such is the gutbucket Blues swamp the band thrash around in that it’s hard to tell which of these tunes are originals and which date back almost 100 years. ‘I’m Coming Home’, for instance, prowls around like a dark cousin of ‘Smokestack Lightning’, while ‘Big Legged Woman’ is funky and lecherous, with searing slide guitar striking like a lethal brown snake. Guest player Brian Olive’s loose, N’Awlins-style piano and fat sax add a little colour, but the wonky grooves are everything and the band push most of the eight tracks well over the five minute mark as they explore the corners and whip the lascivious grooves into submission.
Admittedly, it doesn’t always work so well. The six-minute ‘How Many More Years’ is chaotic and sludgy to say the least, while their take of ‘Little Red Rooster’ is so loose, fagged-out and fragmented it almost falls over, providing a weak and disappointing conclusion to a record which can breathe fire with the best of them at its’ best. A much better wind-down would have been the minimal and dreamy ‘I Worn My Body For So Long’, where Ford laments his long innings down here on Earth while his eerie voice echoes and ricochets all over the shop. Clammy and cantankerous, but absolutely cracking too.
‘Taledragger’, then, is quite content for its’ warts and scars to show. It’s a record with the weight of almost a hundred years of hard slog on its’ shoulders, but at its’ best it stings, slashes and burns with an impressively youthful vigour. Records documenting life and how to survive it only rarely sound as exhilarating as this.
Alive! Naturalsound Records online