You know you're in for the real deal when 78-year-old James "T-Model" Ford shouts out the low-down truth. After a quick and dirty drum roll on this (studio) live set, he announces: "I'm a tail-dragger from Greenville Mississippi. I'm the boss of the blues. Can't read, can''t write, and don''t been to school a day in my life!" Guitarist/vocalist Ford and his drummer Spam are the only musicians on this disc, aptly entitled Bad Man
, but they sound like a five-piece band on a hot Saturday night. This is a recording you can't stop listening to, and yet its richness is masked in three, two, or one chord simplicity. It's what punk rock originally hoped (and ultimately failed) to deliver. Raw. Authentic. Relevant.
As with the three previous discs on the Fat Possum label, Ford uses an inimitable guitar style and interesting (or, as some purists may say, masculine) lyrics to express the rough and tumble of his unique, violent and varied existence. (Yes, he''s done some time the slammer.) But life sometimes has a funny way of redeeming itself and lucky for us, T-Model Ford turned to the electric guitar, rather than a rut or a grave, at age 58. He has used his gifts to persevere through the past and the present. He truly is the Boss of the Blues.
It becomes quite obvious after hearing a few tracks on Bad Man that this is not a sonically polished outing. There are false starts, missed beats, volume and mix changes, etc. But there's the charm. The overproduced blues recordings of the '80s and the '90s provided a strong need to return to the coarseness of the genre, and this is where Fat Possum has led the call to bring it on home. (Ironically though, fellow label/soul mate RL Burnside was involved in one of the most over-produced discs in the catalogue Come on In ).
Legendary Memphis producer Jim Dickinson (Big Star, the Replacements, Ry Cooder) is present on paper for Bad Man. But other than creative support, uncommon microphone placement, and a wall of grinding one-chord guitar overdubs on the title track for instance, Dickinson acts as a quiet guide behind the scenes of this recording. The sound is so hypnotic that if you close your eyes, you''d think Ford and Spam are in your living room, whooping it up for your personal blues indulgence. Check out the groove on ''Somebody's Knockin'' or the bluesy ''Everything's Gonna Be Alright''. There you have to listen carefully to figure out whether or not there''s bassist on this set too.
I really dug the feel of the hep gospel sounds on "Let the Church Roll On'' with its female chorus and Ford's guitar way over-phased. Elsewhere the endless 12 bar boogie of ''Yes, I'm Standing'', ''Black Nanny'', and ''The Duke'' could go all night long if it were not for the CD''s size limitations. Interestingly, the tunes come across so fully confident and personal that one forgets that there are no originals on the disc. For instance, ''Backdoor Man'', a great but worn-out blues staple, is given an intense workout from Ford's voice and electric guitar. That's the sign of one who's has lived the subject, yet has the guts to go beyond it.
Listening to Bad Man, you'll truly appreciate why Ford can say with assurance, ''Hell raiser / best guitar in town / I'm a Bad Man / all you wild women want me around!''