I'm rather late with reviewing John's most recent album as I never seem to get a spare moment these days, but I just wanted to say how much I've enjoyed listening to A Better Day. John sounds great and it's a pleasure to hear his distinctive vocals on some new material, all played with a fine bunch of musicians. These include John's son, who is clearly a chip off the old block and has developed his own musical style. Apart from that, I don't really know too much about the other band members - maybe that's sometimes for the best as the listening experience "is what it is", without prior expectation or pre-judging. There is some excellent musicianship on the album with some well worked-out songs and catchy rhythmns, just as we have come to expect from John.
The album has ten tracks altogether, and provokes a mixed bag of emotions while wending one's way through a wide range of styles. I shall write a few words about each song:
A Better Day opens with the romantic/love-gone-wrong "Cry Me a River", with melancholy piano accompanying John's vocal philosophising. This is followed by John's version of a song with which Dave Cousins' fans will be familiar; "Deep in the Darkest Night". John and his band do this beautiful song admirable justice, in my opinion. "You Can Do Anything" is next; another reflective song with a very pleasant guitar break in the middle.
Next comes "A Better Day" itself, a jaunty number, very upbeat and skifflish, with some jangly keyboards. Definitely a song to sing along to. The mood switches to nostalgia with "Old, Borrowed and Blue", which is wistful and includes some lovely mellow guitar. "After the Rock" is raunchy rock, with some strong bass lines and rock guitar. It even comes complete with some great Led Zep style backing vocals (which I believe are provided by Ian Lloyd).
"Concrete Jungle" reverts to sad reflection about better days. This song appeared on John's solo album entitled Love Is A Highway some years ago, and is one of my many favourites. "The Letter" follows and is again a wonderfully wistful love song, with some attractive keyboard accompaniment and laid-back guitar reminiscent of The Shadows' sound. It's back to "catchy" with "Link to the Chain", predominantly a gentle acoustic song, with some neat percussion and warm harmonies.
The final track on the album is "Sandy", a heart-felt tribute to those affected by the Hurricane of the same name. The song has sensitive lyrics in keeping with the subject matter, and a stirring, anthemic chorus. Hopefully it helps to keep us all mindful of the hardships faced by some, and maybe provides a glimmer of comfort to people affected by this and other such tragedies.
A Better Day is a very welcome addition to my collection. I believe it is currently available from CD Baby, Amazon etc. for those who want to check it out for themselves but haven't yet had the pleasure.
There's an interview by Judi Cuervo about the album and John's time in the Strawbs in the features section
Sometimes it seems as though classic rock musicians come in only two varieties: Those who ride the coattails of their long-ago accomplishments, and those who dismiss their past successes entirely, insisting we focus exclusively upon what they've coaxed out of their creative stores in the past half hour. John Ford falls into neither camp and, after my first few listens to his new album, Big Hit In India, I think I know why.
John certainly needs not look to the past to find musical sources of pride but, instead, his mastery of the classics allows him to bring us material that magically casts us back to the very best days of rock & roll. On this disc, you'll find no remakes of "Nice Legs" or "Part Of The Union" or covers of popular songs by other artists. What you will find is a CD filled with new and original compositions that somehow feel as comfortable from the first play as your tattered-covered copy of Pink Floyd's Dark Side Of The Moon or The Beatles' White Album. You'll be tempted to sing along right from the start, until you realize you've never heard the song before.
This is an album for all three elements of the John Ford audience: The obsessed Strawbs fan who follows every path of every member in the band's history, the John Ford fan who's enjoyed his previous solo releases, or caught a rockin' live performance and maybe, most of all, the basic classic rock fan.
Live or on record, it's rare that you won't find John paying homage to the British Rock Invasion in sound or song. Pop this CD into your player and you'll hear the tongue-in-cheek title track, the story of an aging British rocker who suddenly finds himself a "big hit in India," despite being unable to get on the radio or TV in his own country. Eastern musical influences, a stadium crowd cheering, and lyrics that catapult us back to the days of flower children and the maharishi leave the listener swaying and grinning simultaneously.
"Poor Boy Running" might just be my favorite song this year. Whether it's because it's a classic John Ford tune with an irresistible bouncy melody and vocals or because its lyrics eerily echo the feelings I had following my recent job loss after 29 years, I'm not sure, but I've been singing it now for 9 days.
Another classic Ford tune, "Weird", is a haunting track, a sad tale of a dying love that would depress the hell out of me if it weren't followed by the Barry Gibbesque "And I Love The Way" which is bursting with images of love, optimism and hope.
"And I Love The Way" marks the point on Big Hit In India when John's love of classic British rock comes to the forefront. Suddenly it seems we're visited by the aforementioned Barry Gibb, John Lennon, David Bowie, the Beatles and, in a nod to this side of the Pond, some good ol' 50's rock and roll.
Close your eyes, and John Lennon (joined by David Bowie), could be crooning "Everybody Knows". Roy Orbison could have written "Still Waiting" and "Dead In The Water" and David Bowie might be singing lead on "Paper Trail". You'll swear it's the Beatles on "If I Wanted To".
It probably isn't fair to John to praise Big Hit In India for bringing us songs that feel like some of our favorite rock legends have sent wonderful new music down from their infrequently-used studios or the heavens. We should be showering Ford, himself, with the credit for giving us a third decade of memorable music and lyrics, rather than comparing him to Lennon, Bowie and the Beatles.
Then again, knowing Ford's love of rock & roll and its masters, he might even be flattered.
How on earth John Ford conjures up seemingly endless attractive tunes, catchy choruses and endearing lyrics is completely beyond me. It really is a massively understated talent which not many people possess. John's latest solo album, Big Hit In India, is packed full of memorable and appealing songs, making it all look oh-so-simple as track after track sticks inside your head and has you humming the tune for days. Of course, John not only wrote all the songs on Big Hit in India, but as with his previous solo albums he also provides all vocals and the majority of the instrumentation. On several tracks he is, however, aided by other musicians including his son John Jnr., who adds guitar, and the result is an extremely enjoyable album which provides a great collection of primarily feelgood, easy-listening songs. This album is bound to appeal to fans of many `60's pop bands; The Beatles in particular spring to mind as John frequently creates sounds which, though highly individual, are reminiscent of that era, aided of course by his superbly distinctive vocals. However, throughout his career John has shown what a versatile musician he is, and it comes as no surprise that John covers a wide variety of musical styles on this album.
"Big Hit in India" is the title of both the opening song and the album itself; in my opinion the album could be subtitled "The Love Collection" or something similar as the emotion features very strongly. Sad songs reflect upon lost and unrequited love while more upbeat songs and romantic ballads speak of love's wonder – if it's lurve you want, look no further!
The title track is a real piece de resistance which has some great tongue-in-cheek lyrics, distinctly "John Ford parody" in style (remember The Monks??), and tells of a musician who is no longer flavour of the month, apart from in India where flower-power hippy adulation is there for the taking. A great song with pseudo sitar and cheering crowd sounds adding to the fun; I love it!
"Poor Boy Running" is bouncy and upbeat, yet the lyrics provide a contrast and tell a much less happy story. This song has a great guitar break.
"Weird" is possibly my favourite track of the album, with feelings of desperation and defeat caused by love gone wrong portrayed very effectively both musically and lyrically. There are some great sound effects too.
"And I Love The Way" is reminiscent of the style of a couple of songs from John's Hudson Ford days, in particular the "Daylight" album. This song is 70's soul inspired, mellow and chilled out, and with some very attractive guitar.
I adore "Still Waiting (For You)", with its authentic 60's guitar sounds and thick harmony choruses reminiscent of The Searchers and bands of that ilk. For me the song instantly conjures up black and white television images of smartly suited bands smiling at the cameras on "Ready, Steady, Go" and the like. "Love is All I Ever Want" provides very pleasant listening; a well-orchestrated song with really nice keyboards. Love is going well at the moment!
"We Always Rock and Roll" does what it says on the tin; John (and John Jnr.) turn teddy boy. Never my kind of music, though undeniably done very well here, and I can almost run my fingers through that lovely shiny Brylcreem while listening, mmm.
"Paper Trail" is a romantic ballad, very laid-back with some attractive guitar, and begs for a smooch at the end of the evening…
"Dead In The Water" has funky guitar and smooth vocals; another very memorable song with a catchy chorus.
"Everybody Knows" starts with some pleasant jangly guitar and wistful music is complemented by lyrical sadness; a love affair has come to a close.
"If I Wanted To" has a harder, more rocky feel, this time reflecting the "once bitten, twice shy" message of the song.
The final song, "Forbidden Planet", is another of my favourites on this album. Some beautiful keyboards add a spacey feel which complements the lyrics to perfection. This is a really lovely, mellow song; yet another to hum dreamily all day long.
The strong emphasis on both the joys and angst of love could make this album an excellent St. Valentine's Day gift, preferably accompanied by a sumptuous Indian meal in a select restaurant, or at least a take-away. Unfortunately that would mean waiting much too long to taste the delights of John Ford's latest offering; far better to order a copy now either in readiness for a Christmas treat, or simply rip off the cellophane as soon as it arrives and enjoy instantly. You know you're worth it.
We were visited by the same Xmas fairy, and she left us exactly the same thing in our stocking too.
Must say, I viewed it with trepidation. Although Heavy Disguise is gorgeous, John Ford was responsible for "Nice Legs, Shame About The Boat Race", and so I must confess that I haven't really listened to any of his solo work because of that. bviously he is capable of writing beautiful songs, but if the "Christmas Trilogy" was in the style of "Legs", then there was a serious risk that I might offend the Xmas fairy if I criticised it.
Looking at the track list didn't inspire confidence either. "Do You Know It's Xmas" sounded like it could well be a mickey take of the Band Aid song. However, my fears were groundless. The album is beautiful.
The first track, "Holy Night" sounds as if it could be a Strawbs track. Strangely, it sounds to me to be more in the style of the Deadlines era of Strawbs, rather than Bursting.
The title track, "Trilogy", starts with "Silent Night". Before listening I was seriously expecting this to be dire. Couldn't believe there was room for yet another version of this song. WRONG! WRONG! WRONG! I have never heard such a beautiful version of this song, and I don't believe that I can ever listen to any other version without thinking of this.
Of the other two parts of this trilogy, I have never heard "Do You Hear What I Hear?" before. Don't think either this, or "The First Noel" are quite as impressive as "Silent Night", but still excellent.
Both Nigel and Lindsay seem to think that "Don't You Know It's Xmas" is the best track on this album, but I'm not so sure. Musically, it is lovely, but I reckon the lyrics are a bit forced. Rhyming "lantern" with "abandoned" seemed a bit cheesy to me. Still I guess that the whole point of the song is to highlight the childhood innocence of Christmas, so the simplicity of the lyrics is probably intentional.
Like Nigel, I thought that "The Day A Baby Was Born" was a nice, light, jolly song, but other than that, I don't think it is sensational. Very nice guitar playing though.
In my opinion, the best track on the album is "I Don't Care If it's Xmas". I think it is such a shame that this is a Xmas themed song, as I think it is the sort of song that would otherwise be played constantly throughout the year. It's a real rocker.
Finally, "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus". I've always liked Phil Spector's sound, and didn't think it could be done better, but again, I was wrong. Found myself toe-tapping to this on the first listen.
Calli was going to write a review of this album, but hasn't yet had a chance to get round to it, so I'll add her comments here too. She said that it was about time someone wrote another good Xmas record again. During the seventies there were some really nice Xmas songs, which told some good stories and gave you "warm cuddly feelings", (her words not mine), which you still hear occasionally being played whilst you Xmas shop. Songs such as "A Fairytale Of New York", "I Believe In Father Christmas", "Driving Home For Christmas", "2000 Miles", etc, etc, etc., these songs made a change from the usual Xmas standards, such as "Wonderful Christmas Time", "Rockin Around The Christmas Tree" etc.. Calli, feels that "I Don't Care If It's Xmas", sort of brings those "warm cuddly feelings" back. Would be good to hear it released one day.
Can't thank the Xmas fairy enough, and will definately look out for more John Ford solo stuff in the future.
Pete (the young pretender) was wondering if we all had something nice in our Christmas stockings. Well, I didn't find too much in my stocking, but after a little rummage did find a five and a half inch square-ish thing and a leg. It must have been deposited by some young kindly Christmas fairy from the East (that's East of me, not East of Eden ), who just knew I had a penchant for such things.
Ripping excitedly at its packaging, almost missing the label which said "it's for me!" I quickly peeled the contents open to reveal a pristine copy of John Ford's, "A Christmas Trilogy". At last something to look forward to, on Christmas day in the morning. Well, after the obligatory and annual - half a bottle of sherry - (just keeping to tradition of course).
I guess about one hour (and that half a bottle) had passed before I found my way to the first track. Misreading the cover, initially I thought I was in for a renamed "Silent Night" when seeing the words Holy Night in the title, but that was just my mistake (I wonder why?). Instead a very up beat tempo of a different "Oh Holy Night" extolling the glories of that special Holy Night. Never mind the words, it was the spirit that counted - setting a joyous preamble to the rest of the tracks on the disc. Some lovely vocals and guitar breaks.
As if in premonition, the next track - the three part "A Christmas Trilogy" started with the first verse of "Silent Night", quiet and gentle, initially with a single guitar and quietly sung vocals, the verse is then repeated, gradually building in sound around, transporting you to a Christmas many years ago. Seamlessly moving in to "The First Noel", with a drum background and again taking me back to those school days and the "fun" we had with the verse (ooops that's a confession, Mrs Finkins will be after me!). Then a smart guitar break then once again seamlessly leading to " Do You Hear What I Hear" - not one of my favourites, but here given an almost rock style treatment. Ah, if only it had been performed like this a long time ago perhaps my mind would be in a different set.
In my eyes the next track "Don't You Know It's Christmas" is the tour de force with its "Lennon" like opening. Self penned (that's John F - not me!), I must admit had great fun with this one and left it on "repeat" for about an hour. It captures the mood emphatically and it is one of those songs that has some great vocal nuances which make you want to sing along and add your own little bits, whilst capturing the mood of celebration of the day. You have got to get hold of the disc just to have a go at repeating each line in the space between each, you can include so many styles and variations. Fantastic entertainment and may be one day I 'll show a few, what I mean when I get one of those things to make MY voice sound at least half as good as John's.
"The Day A Baby Was Born" is a jolly little song - other than that does not carry quite the same inspiration as the previous track, but "I Don't Care If It's Christmas" jolts you out of any sense that all is well, with its almost anti-Christmas feeling, delivered in an a style to suit. With all that has gone before, it takes you away from any Christmas day torpor of a happy daydream world. Love the effect of this on an otherwise "happy" celebratory style of songs on the rest of the disc.
The disc winds up with an up beat "dance along" (oh no not me!) version of "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" a nice little bouncy ending to a nice Christmas disc.
John does some nice versions of some traditional stuff, but without doubt my two favourite ones are the ones he wrote himself and I have already mentioned in detail which of the two I favour personally.
I hope John and Jill and of course John Jnr. had a great Christmas - this little offering certainly added to mine! So my thanks go to you all and of course to that little Eastern Christmas fairy who put it my way.
Christmas has definitely arrived in Essex, in the form of John Ford's "A Christmas Trilogy" – the "Trilogy" is actually comprised of "Silent Night", "The First Noel" and "Do You Hear What I Hear" – the three songs segue together to form some very festive listening, all beautifully delivered by John. And there's more!!! Yes, you may have to wait for the January sales, but with John you get your bargains early, for along with "Trilogy" come five further tracks on this maxi single/mini album. The multi-talented Mr. Ford pretty much does the lot – sings, plays bass, acoustic and electric guitars, keyboards, drums and percussion. Another Mr. Ford, his son, John Jnr., features on one track however, providing some great electric guitar for "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus". This is a rocker and would get everyone on their feet at a party, for sure.
Two of the tracks featured are new compositions by John; the first, "Don't You Know It's Christmas" is reminiscent of Beatles' sounds in places, and brings a hummable, catchy, message of the joys of the season accompanied by some very pleasant acoustic guitar and keyboards. John's other self-composed song is "I Don't Care If It's Christmas"; in complete lyrical contrast, this track tells of the wistfulness which Christmas sometimes brings. It's not all bad news though; the song has some attractive guitar to weep along to. John's own take on "Oh Holy Night", again features some very nice keyboards and "The Day a Baby Was Born" completes this cracker of a festive package; another pleasant song, written by Ilene Weiss, an artist from the New York area.
A well-designed booklet accompanies the cd; "a quality package" indeed. All the lyrics are there, on glossy paper, with some nice little colour photos in keeping with the tradition that is Christmas, together with one of John himself. A jolly seasonal "well done" to Jill Morrison for the artwork. The album makes a lovely Christmas present and is exceptionally good value too – available from John's website at www.johnfordmusic.net – definitely a welcome stocking filler for anyone who likes to partake of some Christmas spirit.
I received my copy of John Ford's new album "Whatever Happened to Christmas" yesterday - this has to be the ULTIMATE Christmas stocking filler.
John covers all the classics ("White Christmas", "Winter Wonderland", "Run Rudolf Run", "Have Yourself a Merry Little...." and so on), with his own little twists along the way. All beautifully sung of course and John sings each song and plays the bulk of the instruments, aided by his son playing guitars on three tracks and Joe Cesare playing guitar on another.
The album includes four of John's own tracks, including the rocky, almost punkish, title track which bemoans the diminution of Christmas as a time of magical celebration thanks to the PC brigade. Another of John's compositions, "Christmas Rendezvous", for me conjures up visions of a snowy Tyrolean Christmas complete with swaying, smiling faces lit up by a roaring fire and includes sounds reminiscent of distant cowbells, interspersed with rockier singalong chorus. John's "We All Love Christmas Time" begins with sleigh bell sounds.... "Lonely at Christmas" is a strumalong bulging with nostalgia, pathos, the whole lot.
Yes folks, every Christmas cliche in the book is on this album: church bells, sleighs, mistletoe, carols, falling snow, aching hearts... GREAT FUN! John's sometimes apparently "tongue-in-cheek" lyrics do of course carry a deep message though, as the erosion of the right to celebrate Christmas in time-honoured tradition gathers political impetus, along with everything else.
As mentioned on the cover (great artwork designed by Jill Morrison again btw) - the word "Christmas" is either sung or spoken 86 times! Buy a copy for youself, your kids and your granny - this album works on several levels - you'll never need to buy another Christmas album for as long as you live! And dont forget, you lucky people who will get to see John Ford along with acoustic Strawbs tonight at Satalla's - take plenty of dosh so you can get your Christmas shopping sorted nice and early.
It's not often that I'm willing to play a Christmas CD in the middle of October, but for John Ford I'm making an exception. I mean, if it's John, it HAS to be good, right?
After spending an entire morning listening to the CD, the answer is YES, of course it's good! In fact, it's terrific! In an age where most artists try to turn standard Christmas carols into carbon copies, John takes the higher road and completely reinvents them.
As far as the Christmas standards on the CD go, John makes each song uniquely his own. There are two lovely renditions of "White Christmas," a traditional version, and a rock version. There is also a rocked out version of "Winter Wonderland" and John performs "I'll Be Home For Christmas" in such a way which would put Perry Como to shame. An absolutely terrific job on the covers! I'll give props to ANY artist who can make listening to "Let It Snow" a worthwhile event. (John makes it happen!)
When it comes to the original Christmas songs he wrote for the album, John reestablishes himself as not just a fantastic musician, but a fantastic writer as well. Out of the four songs John wrote for the album, it would be hard to pick favorites, but "Christmas Rendezvous" and "Lonely At Christmas" seem to stand out the most for me. If given the opportunity, they are sure to become Christmas classics!
The instrumentation, including the bells, really puts you in the Christmas spirit! Add this CD to your Christmas collection or place it in the stocking of someone you love...
As today [1 July] is John Ford's birthday I thought it apt to review his new "maxi-single", which really does represent amazing value. It consists of 6-and-a-bit tracks, some of which will have been witnessed during live recording by the lucky Witchwooders who attended the party he played with Brian and Cathryn in Bristol earlier in the year.
May I suggest that rather than having a whip-round to buy him new socks this year everyone buys themselves a copy – Strawbs' fans really should hear this alternative version of "New World" regarding which Dave Cousins himself has apparently been very complimentary.
John's version of "New World" is extremely soulful, imparting a sense of foreboding just as the original Strawbs' recording, though the slower pace of this rendition appears to emphasise weary resignation and apathy induced by seemingly ceaseless bloodshed rather than the anger apparent in Dave Cousins' vocals. A minimalist introduction involving only acoustic guitar accompanying John's vocals is shortly followed by the addition of keyboards, and this powerful recording builds to a crescendo involving some excellent lead guitar playing and bass lines so familiar to Strawbs' fans. "There is death in the air, with the lights growing dim…" the well renowned lines sound as though spoken through a megaphone, conjuring up images of emergency services desperately searching for survivors in the aftermath of catastrophe. Dave Cousins has apparently been very complimentary regarding John's highly sympathetic reworking of this Strawbs' classic.
A newly recorded love song follows: "You Can't Keep Me From Singing". This track opens with attractive keyboard and acoustic guitar, very "John Ford" in style with distinctive trademark catchy tune and interesting, easily distinguishable lyrics; a pleasure to listen to.
A very pleasant interpretation of Lennon/McCartney's "Across the Universe" follows. Vocally, John would surely have slotted easily into the Beatles (their loss) and his voice suits this song down to the ground.
"A Whiter Shade of Pale", a song by a bunch of rather famous (Southend) Essex boys called Procul Harum follows. I believe John commented that it was a song he wished he'd written, which must surely be a sentiment felt by many. This is a beautiful version of a beautiful song, which John again sings with great feeling and sensitivity. I have actually been able to decipher the lyrics for the first time in my life thanks to John's rendition
"Kissed by the Sun" is one of my favourite tracks from John's second solo album, "Heading for a High": this version is slower and sung more gently than the original. Laid back keyboards and acoustic guitar complement John's vocals and add to a dreamy feel.
John next proceeds to introduce Brian Willoughby and Cathryn Craig, and together the three of them sing "Part of the Union", with Cathryn's harmonies embellishing John's lead vocals. Cathryn has a wonderful voice to which anyone having had the pleasure of hearing Brian and Cathryn perform will attest. Brian's guitar neatly fills the gap left by the lack of Blue Weaver's piano, and the song has something of a skiffle feel to it. The enjoyment felt in the making of this live track is clearly evident and must have been a pleasure to behold.
A brief snatch of Donegan's "Worried Man Blues" completes this "maxi-single" of remarkably good value, together with an exchange between John and Cathryn regarding "skiffle" (John has previously cited Lonnie Donegan as one of the big influences on his musical career). Laughter from the audience conveys the ambient, relaxed atmosphere shared by those present this event.
The front and back sleeves within the cd jewel case feature art nouveau designs, and those who own an original copy of the "Grave New World" album will appreciate the replicated illustrations from the back cover of the booklet which accompanied the album, imparting a sense of continuity; a lovely touch indeed.
"Nice Legs, Shame About The Face" - This is the version I would have wanted in 1979 when the record company decided to release what was actually a demo version. This time it sounds much more like a full band version and has a good sing-song finish. John sounds like he's having a great time singing it as well with his voice breaking into laughter rather like DC in "Tokyo Rosie".
"Suspended Animation" - Similar to the version on the 1981 Monks album although this time with John doing the vocals. A heavier version than the more punky original. Again, it works for me. I love the bass guitarwork in the 3rd verse.
"Summer's Gone" - Great laid back start before rocking it up for the body of the song. A regret for the passing of summer. Something I can empathise with.
"Love Is A Highway" - Good version although I don't feel it adds much to the original from 7 years ago.
"I Don't Understand" - Slowing down now for a reflective look back. A pleasant, laid back song for the most part with a good electric break in the middle.
"Revelations" (and Reprise) - Not sure what John is getting at in this one. Possibly instructions to the next generation to learn from the mistakes of this one. A very threatening sort of 'something's going to happen' feel to the music all the way through. The reprise reminds me of the title track from Pink Floyd's "Obscured By Clouds" (that's a compliment).
"When Did I Ever Let You Down" - Another good rocker with a trademark driving beat.
"Cold Steel" - Oh dear, sorry to Dave Lambert. This is/was probably my favourite track on Deja Fou. However, John's version knocks the spots off the original. Missing the longer intro of the original which was extended to bring in the banjo, this version launches fairly swiftly into a superb rocker, the sort of number that John does so well. Driving rhythm guitar and blistering lead guitar on the playout just make me wish for more. I just play this one over and over.
"You Made Your Bed" - This track first appeared on Love Is A Highway. A real 'put down' of a song. Sounds like loads of bitterness over a breakup. Lots of anger. Great song.
"Reactions Of A Young Man" - John says 'the 60s flavour has hopefully been kept on this recording'. I'd say the sitar works for the 60s flavour. Not sure if anything else is supposed to do it. The story of a young man saying goodbye to an older, married woman after a relationship that was doomed from the start. I like this one.
"We Got 'Em Running" - An 'out for revenge' song if ever there was one - "though we didn't start it we'll avenge the broken hearted". The liner notes say written just before 9-11. I think that should read just after 9-11. There were any number of songs that came out of 9-11. This is one of my favourites. Essentially the Natural High version but slightly tweaked.
"Witchwood" - A very laid back, folky version of the Strawbs classic. Done live with just John and an acoustic guitar. Very evocative and a good contrast to some of the faster, rockier tracks.
"Heavy Disguise" - A great song from GNW and done well for this live 'bonus' track. Because the original version was just John and guitar (with string overdubs) this song has always come over well when done live. This recording is no exception.
Backtracking brings together fresh recordings of an eclectic collection of songs, mainly written by John Ford himself or together with Richard Hudson. The inclusion of John's own interpretation of tracks written by both Dave Cousins and Dave Lambert in the form of "Witchwood" and "Cold Steel", together with a new, pared down version of "Heavy Disguise", is likely to be of particular interest to Strawbs' fans. The Monks' very individual style is also represented on this album, together with new recordings of several tracks from John's days as part of Hudson Ford. Backtracking also includes newly recorded versions of songs which have appeared on John's recent solo albums. Many of the tracks featured have been unavailable on CD until now, and this release gives fans (or fans yet to be) the chance to hear gems they may have missed along the way.
The album opens with a new recording of "Nice Legs, Shame About the Face", originally released by The Monks on the Bad Habits album in 1979, which has an amusing punchline and was undoubtedly a good, well-written pop song. This is followed by a re-recording of a further Monks track, in the form of "Suspended Animation" – lots of sound effects, great drumming, several interesting timing changes and the requisite "spacey" feel (given the lyrical content of the song) cleverly captured - I really enjoy listening to this track. Only since hearing this new version have I appreciated what a fascinating song it is; unfortunately The Monks' albums were released in an era when punk culture had completely hijacked the UK music press and music charts. It was definitely not a fruitful time for bands unable to squeeze under the punk umbrella in the UK, and the faintly "pseudo" punk of The Monks was not afforded high credibility status in the UK at that time. I happened to spend some time in both the USA and Canada that year, and even whilst visiting major cities I remember being surprised at the minimal impact punk seemed to have made compared with the UK, where every town centre in the country was full of multi-colour haired, safety pinned and swastika'd punks spitting provocatively on the pavements between swigs of cider and whatever else. The Monks apparently achieved their greatest success in Canada, and I must assume the UK music industry's almost total obsession with punk at that time was the reason. Having now heard these re-recorded Monks tracks and having listened to them for what they are, The Monks' very own sound, has been a new and enjoyable experience for me.
Onward from the Monks' contributions, the album continues with "Summer's Gone"; a beautiful track originally written by John together with Richard Hudson. This is a lovely, melodic and slightly wistful track; I'm so glad it didn't remain overlooked and gathering dust as it apparently had been for many years.
"Love is a Highway" follows – my first hearing of this song was actually at the Strawbs' 30 year reunion gig at Chiswick Park where the song was played over the loudspeaker system. I wondered what I was listening to at the time and was delighted when I realised John was on the verge of releasing his first solo album. John was apparently not completely happy with that initial recording and says his dissatisfaction with it is what initially prompted him to put this album together – I'm afraid I can't agree there, I love the original recording, though I'm glad he wasn't so happy or Backtracking may not have been recorded! This is an alternative version as far as I'm concerned, neither better nor worse. This has more "rocked up" guitar and backing vocals than the original.
A couple of excellent tracks from Hudson Ford's first album Nickelodeon follow: the beautifully laid-back and reflective "I Don't Understand" which segues via simple acoustic guitar into "Revelations". These two songs (the first of which was originally sung by Hud on Nickelodeon) were always played together when Hudson Ford performed live and following "Revelations" the audience often appeared to be in an almost hypnotic state, such was the intensity of these songs. In this version "Revelations" is driven along with acoustic guitar to the fore, with more subdued lead, then fades to nothing, fooling the uninitiated that the track has finished……..only for a reprise to appear with some excellent lead guitar playing taking centre stage. I remember Hudson Ford appearing on "The Old Grey Whistle Test" in the UK in the days of Whispering Bob and playing "Crying Blues" and "Take it Back" from Nickelodeon – not sure whether they played "I Don't Understand"/"Revelations" on OGWT or another tv programme too - I seem to have a vague recollection that they did somewhere - Dick?? Help me out! [DG: 'fraid I don't know - they played these two as a brief acoustic Hudson-Ford slot on the 2000 tours, as I Recall.]
"When Did I Ever Let You Down" from John's first solo album follows. The vocals are mixed lower than on the original, again some great electric guitar and keyboards. I like this recording a lot and I think this song has some interesting lines lyrically.
"Cold Steel" – a song recently written by Strawbs' Dave Lambert follows – a terrific version of a giant of a song with lyrics that hit where it hurts. "Cold Steel" wasn't voted one of Strawbs' fans' favourites from Deja Fou (Strawbs album released in 2004) for nothing. John's version is much heavier and rockier than the original - I could not possibly say I prefer one version to the other though – the two different interpretations of this gripping song make comparison irrelevant for me. I love `em both and wouldn't want to be without either!
Another of John's own more recent compositions follows: "You Made Your Bed" - a very bitter sounding song as implied by the title. This is a slower version than appeared on the Love Is A Highway album. Definitely not one of my favourite tracks this one, sorry, but bearing in mind this album has 13 tracks I don't think that's bad going.
I was amazed to see Backtracking included "Reactions of a Young Man". This appeared on the first Elmer Gantry album so long ago I don't even want to say (ok it was 1968). I remember advertising in Melody Maker for a copy some time in the 1970s and was delighted to receive it. This track was always a particular favourite of mine - the lyrics are interesting and always amused me about a "Mrs. Robinson" and her bike-riding toy-boy. I could never help wondering whether or not he removed his cycle clips. John's vocals are much more to the fore than on the album.
"We Got `Em Running" is quite a heavy song, both musically and lyrically. A good rocker which I could imagine getting everyone up and jumping when played live, it obviously refers to the devastation of 9/11 and the desire for revenge felt in the direct aftermath.
The penultimate track, "Witchwood" follows in complete contrast, with power in the form of beauty. John's voice is at its very best. The acoustic guitar is so gentle and John's interpretation of this Dave Cousins classic is completely and utterly gorgeous. I could listen to it all day. Again, I feel any attempt to compare the two different versions would be a futile exercise.
Finally, the album concludes with a fresh recording of "Heavy Disguise", a classic from Grave New World. No horns or other embellishments this time as on the original, just John and his acoustic guitar, his vocals ringing out clear and unimpeded. I adore this version.
John's third album since 1998 - prolific fellow ain't he ? - breaks the mould of the first two, on which John played most if not all the instruments on each track. Whilst John plays a variety of instruments throughout, Vin Fabiano plays bass and guitar solo on "If You Stand By Me", Mike Gebhardt, electric guitar on "PTR" and John's son, John Ford Jr, plays piano on "PTR" and "I'm Not Waiting Any Longer", organ on "Natural High", and contributes piano, bass synthesizer and backing vocals to "America, You're Home To Me". Allison Ryan is backing vocalist on "America, You're Home To Me" and "Ready To Roll."
It's no surprise that some of the songs on John's latest CD deal with the terrorist attacks on America of September 11. The driving rhythm of "We've Got 'Em Running", the opening track on the album, is the background for some uncompromising lyrics, which might offend some of those looking in from the outside - "turn the other cheek" it certainly isn't! However, those of us not direct;y affected by the catastrophe should bear in mind that John is a resident of New York and that he and his family were profoundly affected (as were many others around the world) by those staggering events. In that light, it's as honest a reflection of the mood of the times and the feelings of those around him as Dave Cousins' "Hangman and the Papist" or "New World" would have been in its own particular moment in time.
A recollection of the "calm before the storm" in "Ready To Roll" (track 2) sees John in more reflective mood - things which are here today may not be tomorrow, so take full advantage of them. Acoustic guitars over a percussive background, with bursts of electric rhythm under the choruses and a few nice lead fuzzy break. "America, You're Home To Me" starts off with some percussion, but turns into an anthem for John's adopted land - it builds well to a singalong chorus, which I honestly feel could be a runaway hit if it gets proper release and distribution (though there's a certain irony in such a track being written by a chap from Fulham!).
But there's not just patriotism on display - "Selling God on TV" comes in for criticism in "PTR" (Prime Time Religion for us UK types who may not recognise the acronym), a bouncy closer to the CD. The splendid "Together Apart", which featured on the 2001 Strawbs tour as Hud and John's opener is still possibly the catchiest song on the album though I'm pretty familiar with it by now (I did see about 15 shows after all!). The melody of "Don't Blame Me"sticks in your head for a while too.
All in all, an excellent set of songs, keeping up the high quality we've come to expect from John in his solo releases.
Well, I received my copy of "Natural High" and I've had the pleasure of playing it over a few days now. I know I'm a little biased being a former (but not recovered) Hudson Ford fan, and before that a fan of Strawbs since Antiques and Curios, but I really would have no hesitation recommending this album - there are 15 tracks amounting to over an hour running time, with plenty to appeal to most Strawbs fans.
Some of the tracks were obviously inspired by the events of 11 September, which isn't surprising with JF and his family being citizens of NY. I particularly like the second track "Ready to Roll", which is a slow paced, wistful recollection of that day and its implications. The opening track ("We Got 'Em Running") doesn't actually appeal to me personally as much - it's more of a rock song - but that's the thing about John Ford's albums, he manages to cover such a wide diversity of styles.
Several of the tracks are extremely catchy and should come with a warning that you won't be able to stop humming them - "Ball of Flame" must have HUGE hit potential, and "Together Apart" (which many of you, like me, probably saw JF perform on the last Strawbs tour) is about the heartbreak of losing his young son a few years back. It's a beautiful song with a happy, uplifting feel to it. A lot of JF's songs seem to have that "feelgood factor" - I know a lot of the subjects covered are not exactly happy ones but the general feeling left after playing this album is of optimism. My point of view anyway!
There are a host of romantic ballads with some lovely instrumentation - far too many to give them all a mention. I particularly like "I Danced with You", "Needle in my Eye" and I also loved the title track "Natural High" immediately I heard it - it's got a very hypnotic beat with great little keyboard bits that sound like a snake charmer playing. From the CD insert I see that John's son (JF Jr.) played keyboards on that track and a couple of others, and also John's wife adds backing vocals to a couple of tracks.
I must admit I find "America You're Home to Me" a bit hard to get into the spirit of if you're 100% non-American like me, but this is another track which must have huge appeal if it gets exposure in the States. It's another unashamedly contagious, jaunty song with rousing chorus and I can easily picture it being played in American outlets everywhere.
Anyway, that's about it...... apart from a mention for Mike Gebhardt, whom I met last year before Strawbs' Bloomsbury gig along with several others of that most elite bunch of Strawbs fans (Witchwooders, of course!). Mike plays electric guitar of the last track "PTR", which is another really good song about religion administered via television.