Remember a couple of decades ago when, against some fairly long odds, The Blasters managed to cross-wire punk rock and Americana/roots music? The results were pretty cool – the group actually did manage to break onto the popular radar for a minute (with some help from Quentin Tarantino and the soundtrack from From Dusk Til Dawn), but basically remained pretty niche because punk was still trying to deny history at that time (in spite of developing and re-developing itself for a couple of decades, by that point). Now in 2018 though, even the most rigid of punk rock supporters have conceded the possibility that history might have a place in the music they love so well, and the tempting undertone of post-modernism has ensured that they’ll let other forms begin to color the edges of their favorite musical frame too. Simply said, the time has been right to re-think the possibilities for punk lately and Ford Madox Ford (and that band’s frontman Chip Kinman – formerly of The Dils as well as Rank and File) are ready to show listeners their angle with their debut album, This American Blues.
As soon as some moaning feedback gives way to an overdriven rhythm guitar figure at the beginning of “Quicksand” (the first song on This American Blues‘ A-side), listeners will feel the anticipation of what’s to come build up in their chests. The guitar tone of “Quicksand” carries with it a host of dark and dramatic images (Southern gothic possibilities and dusty, windswept darkness, predominantly, and those with the urge to walk on the wild side won’t be able to stop taking their first steps – but when the drums supplied by S Scott Aguero and Chip Kinman’s instantly accessible vocal tone (which could fit right into any pop punk anthem, any day of the week) ring through, everyone within earshot will be hooked. Listeners will be instantly engaged with this rough and ready turn; so much so, in fact, that the three minutes and ten seconds it takes to make it from top to bottom of “Quicksand” will simply not be enough – they’ll know they need more of what Ford Madox Ford’s making, immediately.
As the A-side of This American Blues continues, listeners will find that Ford Madox Ford has much more up its sleeve than they might have thought. “American Night” masterfully cross-wires a Rolling Stones rhythm with a Neil Young attitude while “Expect It” gets a Green Day stomp moving through a solid 12-bar blues and “I’m Haunted” aims for and hits a more Clash-y rock-punk angle better than The Clash ever really did. By the time the side ends (with the beautifully poppy, chugging blues of “If That’s How You Feel”), flipping the record over for another helping of this music isn’t even a question; the hypnotic combination of punk spirit and revisionist Americana classicism will have listeners lifting the needle the moment “If That’s How You Feel” ends, flipping the record over and setting the stylus down on the B-side as quickly as possible in an attempt to keep the energy level of the album up with as small a break as possible.
While the B-side of This American Blues does not begin on the single strongest note (hearing Kinman whine, “You promised” repeatedly – as he does on the side opener – leaves something to be desired), it doesn’t take too long for Ford Madox Ford to find its footing. Standout cuts like “Immediate Nico” (which balances old rock and old punk values and style just like masters including Richard Hell and Robert Quine used to do in New York forty years ago), “Before The Fall” (which rips off “Should I Stay Or Should I Go” pretty unapologetically) and the carousing cover of Canned Heat’s “Let’s Work Together” which closes the side basically ensures that not only will listeners be hooked and won by This American Blues on their first trip through the album, they’ll have already decided that just one trip through will not be enough – multiple plays through the album will absolutely, positively be required.
And, standing back from it, what does the fact that This American Blues is a really great debut album ultimately mean? Does it mean that, after years of artistic stops and starts through a slew of ill-advised musical adventures, Chip Kinman has finally found a home? This American Blues is so strong, it’s hard to imagine the answer to that question being anything other than a resounding “yes.” This American Blues really is that good – Chip Kinman deserves to be proud of what he has done here. [