David Ford – Let The Hard Times Roll (2010)
Eastbourne-based David Ford is, without doubt, the greatest artist that has never quite made it into the big time. Cutting his musical teeth in the indie band, Easyworld, “Let The Hard Times Roll” is probably my favourite David Ford album. Having a favourite Ford album is quite a difficult and contentious thing, because every one of his studio albums have been nothing less than excellent and every one of them has a distinctly different character, so it’s very possible to love them all equally, but in different ways. Released in 2010, his third solo album came after parting ways with his major record label, Independiente, and the artistic freedom which came from not having people telling him how his music should sound and be marketed shines through on one of his most ambitious and creatively rich collection of songs. Add the fact that virtually everything you hear on this record, with a few exceptions, is the insanely talented multi-instrumentalist Ford himself, the level of accomplishment is nothing short of genius. Thinking back to when I first heard this album, I remember that it took a few plays for the material to really get under my skin, but when it did, these songs stayed in my head for months and have remained firm favourites ever since then.
I usually attempt to highlight the best songs on each album I write about, but in this instance I know I’m going to end up talking about nearly every single track, such is the quality of “Let The Hard Times Roll”. The grandiose, dramatic opening bars of “Panic” resplendent with chiming tubular bells and strings immediately tell the listener that they’re about to experience something truly special. “Making Up For Lost Time” is an instant classic, a melodic beauty that hints at good things to come out the ashes of a broken relationship featuring the brilliant line, “She made the craziest accusations/but everyone of them was true”. “Waiting For The Storm” is an absolutely incredible song; brilliantly written, the utterly gorgeous melody performed with aching emotive vocals. It is one of the greatest songs that David has ever written and yet, as he explains in the liner notes, he wrote the song quickly and it came to him easily. “To Hell With The World” is another heartbreakingly beautiful love song, being both fragile and yet undoubtedly pretty. Ford’s apolitical condemnation of senseless violence in Northern Ireland, “Stephen” is both an excellent statement and nigh impossible to disagree with as well as being a rather wonderful song and tribute to the policeman murdered for a political cause.
There are many songs that I can relate to on “Let The Hard Times Roll” and, when it was released, it tied in with many things that were happening in my life, some rather astonishingly so. However, “Nothing At All” probably resonates with the vast majority of people who listen to it – certainly those the wrong side of thirty, anyway. I have to admit that when I first heard “Sylvia”, I thought it was a bit of a Ford throwaway, but it has an effortless charm that bounces along brilliantly and it is impossible not to love. “Meet Me In The Middle” is a weary composition about a person who is all but dead inside which leads me nicely onto “She’s not The One”, a tumbling country-rock song about Margaret Thatcher, pithy and amusing in equal measure (“She’s got a perfect smile/It’s all yellow teeth and villainy”) – it’s fantastic. The penultimate song, “Hurricane” is one of David’s greatest compositions, a personal account of a society “doomed to be torn apart by greed and short-termism” (according to the liner notes), featuring some of the most powerful lyrics Ford has ever written (“God bless America, God save The Queen/God kill my enemies and keep my hands clean”). The album finishes with a simple, but profoundly moving, love song, “Call To Arms” and if you can get to the end of the song without at least the hint of a tear in your eye, then your heart is most likely made of granite.
I don’t toss terms like “masterpiece” around lightly, but I think you can easily discuss this album in those kind of terms because, simply put (and in my opinion, of course), “Let The Hard Times Roll” is one of the greatest albums ever made. There are only a couple of slightly lesser tracks (“Surfin’ Guantanamo Bay” and “Missouri”) that prevent it from being perfect, but I wouldn’t choose to delete them from the album as they both add to the overall character and there would definitely be something missing from the record without their presence. One of the album’s many strengths is the vast range of subjects dealt with and the fact that David very rarely offers any answers. He comments, he philosophises and he wears his humanity on his sleeve, but this is a record both magnificent in stature and humble in tone. This is an intelligent album, passionately delivered, with as much attention to detail in the lyrics as there is in the music and the delivery of the songs. I’m not sure whether this is the best piece of work David Ford has ever created, but all I can say is that he has yet to release anything better. Every home should have a copy.