A four-year mainstay of the North Carolina club scene but still relative newcomers nationally, Charlotte's Lou Ford is one of those groups that charmed the critics outta their trees a couple of years ago via a low-watt but incandescent debut, Sad, But Familiar. The signature Sweetheart of the Rodeo-meets-Exile on Main Street sound was familiar yet brash, enough so that word trickled across the Atlantic (where Britain's Mojo and Uncut hoisted salutes), resulting in American labels finally becoming curious. Interestingly, the band wound up on San Diego's Headhunter, known mostly for its roster of hard-core and dissonant punk outfits.
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Recorded with veteran producer/engineer Mark Williams (Southern Culture on the Skids) overseeing, on Alan Freed's Radio the Ford clan elaborates upon some of its native, and most likely regional, strengths, making an impressive stride forward that's lusher and more complex than its predecessor. Opening track "Storz' Bar" draws lyrical inspiration from Todd Storz, so-called "inventor of Top 40 radio," and will put a catch in the throat of anyone who ever grew up under the benevolent radioactive glow of the AM dial -- for yours truly, growing up near Charlotte, it was the Beatles/Stones/Motown vibe of WAYS radio that eased me into adolescence -- with parentally spawned lines like "You're just wasting your time/Listening to this" against a stately backdrop of John Lennon-Todd Rundgren piano chords. (God bless 'em, the musicians even begin the tune with an effect that gives it a compressed, AM-like tinniness.)
By the time closing number "Alan Freed" rolls around -- it's an elegant, Son Volt-like collective sigh for a bygone era that opines, "Turn the radio off/I can't think, I can't hear myself talk/Someone give me a drink/No, I don't really care about the next big thing" -- you've been treated to a virtual history lesson, and not a dusty, yellowed-pages one at that.
Images of Hank Williams and John Fogerty ("Said What I Said"), Everly Brothers and Wilco ("A Mile Away"), Jason and the Scorchers and young Paul Westerberg ("Replacement"), George Harrison and Queen ("Come On Sun"), even Gram Parsons and, believe it or not, Herman's Hermits ("Seemingly Maybe," a twangy, cry-in-my-beer update of "Mrs. Brown, You've Got a Lovely Daughter") all flicker by on the Lou Ford screen. You, too, can play spot-the-influence with Lou Ford, but rest assured that each song is a singular, not unduly derivative, alt-country-slash-pop gem in its own right.
Oh yeah, in the "Which one's Pink?" department, the group has no member named "Lou" or "Ford," and while it's too early to tell if the appellative moniker will ultimately yield dividends along the line of "Lynyrd," "Skynyrd," "Jethro," "Tull" or even "Freddy" and "Jones," musically, these guys've already carved out a singular little niche in the record bins all their own. Ask for 'em by name.