T-Model Ford: Bad Man

[7 November 2002]

By Barbara Flaska

If you like your blues raw and a little bit ragged, Fat Possum is a label to explore. On this record in particular you won’t find any of the current slick and glossy production techniques that usually end up making most blues seem out of place on their own records. The blues here is plain, the barest of bones T-Model Ford approach. On this, his 4th album for the label, it’s primarily just Ford and his drummer Spam (Tommy Lee Miles). Ford’s singing voice is as rough as his blues, and his guitar playing an appealing rattletrap buzzy stomp. His rhythm-beat guitar staggers while drummer Spam shuffles his beats. Linked rhythmically together at the hip and ankle, they push through a mostly live set of 10 tunes, perhaps giving some indication of what might be heard in one of those Northern Mississippi juke joints everyone keeps writing about. This might be stripped down bare, but so heavy in the groove the listener might not care if this isn’t exactly like Ford’s previous outings.

Recorded live in tinny-sounding surroundings, Bad Man spins out complete with spoken introductions and banter in the songs. Ford’s deep wheezy voice can growl and howl a little like Howlin’ Wolf and still sound completely sincere about the whole thing. The first track “Ask Her for Water” sets the whole blues mood as Ford pounds out the stomp boogie he’s so good at, and this one will win over the most hard-nosed blues hound. His playing sometimes seems deceptively simple, heavy on the foot-tapping ‘til you’ve got to start slippin’ your hips groove, like on the easy rocking “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright” and “Yes, I’m Standing” (which has some of those distorted and mumbled lyrics that are always a riot to hear other folks try to sing).

A false start into “Somebody’s Knockin’” as the drummer seems to lose the backbeat but the rhythm doesn’t stall, just hovers then reverses and the lead-in is picked up again. The lyrics are surprising, too, some of words are left unsaid for emphasis, “Somebody callin’ on my . . . Somebody callin’ on my . . . ” complete with primitive, raw, guttural howls that break down into something stranger and wilder.

“Let the Church Roll On”, one of the sweeter songs ever is even more endearing with Othar Turner’s family singing background vocals. That is immediately followed by the propulsive, raucous raunch of “Black Nanny”. Ford’s performance of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Back Door Man” has absolutely nothing hackneyed about it and not only sounds completely honest, but Ford seems to take the song back close to its primal core. But the real surprise is a loping instrumental, the easy stroll and swing of “The Duke”, with drums recorded mushy and a graceful tack-piano credited to “Jojo” Hermann (the keyboardist for Widespread Panic).

Well, listening straight through, you’re about ready to stomp around ‘til the log walls fall, until Ford slows everything down and heads out with “Sallie Mae”. T-Model said it aloud for me at the end of the song, “Good stuff. This is good stuff.” T-Model Ford, the self-proclaimed “Boss of the Blues”, is a bluesman not to be missed. As he’s close to 80 years old, you’d better pay attention right now. Benefiting greatly from the production skills of Jim Dickinson, Bad Man plays remarkably well as an album, there’s not a single skipper among the 10 tracks. Don’t take my word for it. Just check out the Fat Possum site, where you can listen to the entire album via audio stream.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/fordtmodel-bad/