The art of songwriting consists largely in the art of making the particular universal and the universal particular. To see through our own experience to the heart of the human experience, to see our own stories reflected in the Great Story, and then to use that Great Story as a guide to the way we live our own stories – this is what the great songwriters do, and enable us to do in turn. It’s a gift I sense regularly in Bruce Springsteen, for instance. And it’s not the only way that British singer-songwriter David Ford resembles the Boss, though it’s perhaps the most important.
The ten songs on Ford’s Charge (2013) have it all: gritty character sketches, tear-jerking tales of love and loss, feel-good love songs, songs of wanderlust, all told with Ford’s Springsteen-via-Sussex vocals and his ear for a turn of phrase. Ford is equally at home spinning off jokes (“And if cannot hold your liquor/Oh, honey, I’ll hold back your hair/If all you need is some distraction, girl/Hey – hey, what’s that over there?”), tugging at heartstrings (“If we were made for each other, we were made imperfectly/From pieces that would never fit right”), and singing the praises of that most American of cities, Philadelphia (“When you’re down and you’re out/And don’t remember the feeling of joy/You can lean on me, brother, I won’t let you fall/Not while I’m a Philadelphia boy”).
You could be forgiven for thinking Ford was an American troubadour following in the footsteps of Woody Guthrie; the only thing that gives away his Sussex heritage is the occasional bleed-through of his English accent. Otherwise his music draws on every major American music tradition of the previous century, incorporating greasy horns and Latin grooves into a solid foundation of folk, blues, and soul. It’s immediately familiar, and in lesser hands might end up sounding generic; but Ford never lapses into cliché, investing every song with passion both in sound and in spirit.
Through it all, he inhabits the time-honored role of the wandering singer-storyteller – or as he characterizes himself in the rollicking lead-off “Pour a Little Poison,” “a whiny little English boy singing the blues.” Down on his luck, tattered and frayed, well aware of his limitations and his failings, he’s still prepared to try again, to let his music and the road carry him forward.
This hard-won hope shines brightest through the album’s closing epic: “Every Time,” an impassioned defense of authenticity against music devoid of meaning and life devoid of purpose that matches the E Street Band in its breathless intensity. The first time the refrain, “Every time I had a chance to stand on my own two feet, I fell,” comes around, it’s as if Ford has resigned himself to defeat; he will never be one of those “millionaire pop singers or… guitar store gunslingers.”
But as the song builds through incandescent verse after incandescent verse, that refrain becomes a rallying cry, a giant, defiant “fuck you” to a world terrified of honesty. Because being honest means making ourselves vulnerable. And if we make ourselves vulnerable, we might get hurt; we might fail. But to fail means to have tried. To fail means to have learned. To fail means to have lived. And to have lived, truly to have lived, is to achieve a victory that our prefab culture cannot understand and cannot measure, a victory that will outlast and outweigh the fleeting comforts of hollow materialism and superficial success:
So I’m not giving up, and I’m not giving in
Though I know it’s a fight that I’m not gonna win
And I still scream in the face of more powerful men:
“I choose this, motherfucker, and I’d choose it again!”
May we all have the strength to do the same. If the rest of Charge doesn’t quite reach such dizzying heights, that’s hardly a criticism. Thank God for David Ford, for giving us music like this: timeless, inspiring, real.
- Day 34: David Ford – Charge (andrewdsweeney.wordpress.com)
- Singer David Ford’s £5k gift for PSNI widow (belfasttelegraph.co.uk)
- 10 Best Singer Songwriters (mademan.com)
- New Music: David Ford – Pour a little poison (backseatmafia.wordpress.com)
- David Ford Announces North American Tour In Support Of New Album Charge (hangout.altsounds.com)