Autopsy IV is on his annual pilgrimage to strap a board to the bottom of his feet and slide down mountains. While he is away 9B will feature a collection of guest posts. Today’s post comes from our good buddy Chris Green.
I’m sure that a lot of ninebullets.net readers are familiar with the legendary T Model Ford and the band GravelRoad from their appearances at the (late, lamented) Deep Blues festival and previous coverage on this site, but I’ll give a brief intro. T Model Ford is an elderly blues-man whose raw sound was first brought to a larger audience by his recordings with Fat Possum records, and who has inspired and influenced many of the artists covered here. T Model started his recording career when he was in his 70s, and there’s a lot of colorful lore about him and his life out there on the internets. GravelRoad is a great 3-piece band from my hometown of Seattle whose sound is a blend of blues, hard rock, and psychedelia, and who have also been performing and collaborating with T Model Ford since 2008.
T Model Ford had an interesting 2010. He started off the year by releasing The Ladies Man, an album full of stripped-down acoustic blues that he recorded with his long time backing band, GravelRoad. This excellent album was recorded live with minimal studio work and featured out-takes between the songs of T-Model talking to the band and telling some stories, providing the listener with the feeling of hanging out at a casual jam between blues musicians. He did a lot of touring in 2010 as well with GravelRoad, playing both small clubs and larger festivals. He also suffered a mild stroke which required him to work hard to regain his full right-hand dexterity for playing his guitar. T Model might have celebrated his 90th birthday in 2010 (no one, including T himself is 100% sure what year he was born). He also got married (for the 6th time) to his longtime companion Stella (who is mentioned in several of his recordings).
And, this past summer, he went into the studios again with GravelRoad for the recording sessions that resulted in a new album, The Taledragger, releasing on 1/11/11 on the Alive/Natural Sounds label.
The new album is a loud electric affair with dense instrumentation. The opening song, “Same Old Train” is a driving 7 minute long groove broken up by T’s singing, guitar solos, and some pounding piano courtesy of guest musician Brian Olive. This track broadcasts to the listener the essential difference between this album and the previous one – while The Ladies Man usually sounds like GravelRoad acting as a backing band with T Model front and foremost, on Taledragger, I’m hearing one seamless band of great musicians.
When corresponding with Marty of GravelRoad, he told me that when they recorded Ladies Man, they had played less than 10 shows with T Model, but that by the time the new material was recorded, they had done 8 or 9 tours with him, and that Marty has drummed with him for something on the order of 150 sets. So it’s not surprising that the new album sounds so much more like a full collaboration.
The second song, “Comin’ back home” introduces another new sonic element, with some fine saxophone playing augmenting the shuffling groove. The sax playing stays with us as they pick up the pace on “How Many Years”. Then things take an interesting turn. “Someone’s Knocking On My Door” opens with some echo-ey, distorted wah-wah guitar, and when T Model’s voice comes in, it’s augmented with a trippy echo. For the next 3 songs, the psychedelic and rock elements of GravelRoad’s sound come through loud and clear, melding seamlessly with T’s juke joint sound. While I love every song on this album, I find these 3 tracks the most exciting.
Then, things shift again. On the rollicking “Red Dress”, T’s opening wailing vocals bring to mind some of his earlier rawer recordings. The album finishes with a slow traditional blues number, “Little Red Rooster”, which was first recorded by Howlin’ Wolf.
I think this a very fine album indeed, that I will be listening to for a long time to come. And, despite it’s early January release, I expect it to show up on plenty of best album lists at the end of 2011.
GravelRoad is planning extensive touring this year, and I highly recommend going out to see them when they visit your town. They will also be doing some dates with T Model Ford, with the first one being in Phoenix in February. One of the high points of 2010 for me was having the privilege of seeing them both together for a great, inspiring Seattle show and getting to talk to T for a bit. I urge anyone out there who has a similar opportunity to take it. If there was a poll for the musician most likely to be still playing 2-hour sets at age 100, T Model Ford would be at the top of the list, but you can hardly treat this as a certainty.