Naim Edge Records
Apologist and philosophical badass G.K. Chesterton knew how to dissent with the best of them. He would unyield his view and temper his weariness on those who self-defined far too comfortably with conservatism or progressivism. Both deal with expert touch in the fine art of the Mistake – without solving much, or saying much, or doing much shy of propagating said Mistake until it becomes it’s own twisted gospel.
Listening to his newest work, Marc Ford might just be the kind of Chesterton modern music needs, in lieu of actual want – for his new Holy Ghost is the sound of a grievous Godspeed.
But such weight is too heavy for an album that casts aside all ballast and swims madly for the deep end, as Ford’s fifth album does so happily, freely. Sometimes the water is the southern California waves Gram Parsons might have bathed in; sometimes the wide English Channel of the Quiet Beatle guides the sojourn subtly to the next shore. The listener is greeted with an unintentional sixty-one seconds of wistful, considered response to the pondering Waters of “Pigs on a Wing, Pt. 1” – “If I’d Waited” is not a common opener, but it works here because it is honest kin to what follows.
Some of those songs that come dancing our way have been out there for a while. Ford has admitted this in previous interviews leading up to the release; he searched and experimented with different groups of friends and colleagues, finally settling on working with members of the excellent British group Phantom Limb (phantomlimbmusic.com) to return the favor he paid them in producing the album that help them land a record deal and reach a wider audience. The Limb’s ingrained love of old-school rhythm & blues & country is an organic, well-made choice on Ford’s part, and the easy-going, heavily-unplugged lushness brings a character to these songs that Marc’s compatriots in Fuzz Machine or the Neptune Blues Club would not have so naturally inhabited. The presence of his wife Kirsten and son Elijah are difference-making as well – “harmony” in more ways than one.
The time Ford has invested in these songs comes across through the woody lacquer that seals the songset together in oaken hues. The tunes, and tones, recall pleasing stretches of popular music that came before, and yet they sit firmly in the small reaches of not only what sounds good, but what makes sense, amidst today’s spirits of dislocation, occasional hopelessness and cultural resignation. The lyrics themselves don’t try too hard – it’s just a guy looking at his own life first, and seeing what pieces still fit the puzzle, mostly unseen.
And that guy is figuring out that the puzzle is as unsolvable as it is unseeable. And, rather joyfully, tells us he’s getting OK with that news. I hazard it’s not of pure coincidence that this album cover features the weathered survivor that looked much younger just a little more than a decade ago on the cover of his first solo record, It’s About Time.
This album outwardly shares little with Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, yet that masterpiece of relevance and brilliance is what I find myself drawn to while listening to Ford’s Holy Ghost finish up. For a man often revered as “MFF,” with that playful F-bomb in the middle serving notice that a virtuoso of soul-searing guitar is present, this album lacks all that externally-imposed self-importance and expectation. Instead, we have a killer mood record, much like Gaye’s epochal work, albeit different atmospheres for different emotional altitudes. Is MFF’s Ghost that strong? I don’t compare artwork, but probably not. And it doesn’t have to be. That’s not what you, or I, will need when we pull out this record. Instead, we will likely need what Ford himself seems to offer in his musical confessions: to “take your dancing shoes, and see what you can lose.” And maybe, just maybe, that subtle wonder that only music can pull out of our depth will once again feel like the “the greatest find that’s ever been found.”