The Blues has just taken a deep breath of fresh air.

Marc Ford (The Black Crowes, Burning Tree, Ben Harper) and his band The Neptune Blues Club accomplish nearly the impossible: their self-titled debut is rife with original and fresh material yet is steeped in traditional blues.

“I wanted this record to be a different kind of blues record,” says the record’s producer Ford, whose world-weary vocals and ferocious slide guitar playing permeate every track on the record. “Why bother doing something that has already been done before?” “I had been jamming with these guys for the fun of it,” says Ford. “It was kind of like a secret pleasure we all had. It was fun and free and we could do anything we wanted.”

But then, again, it’s always been fun and free to play with these musicians, says Ford, because he admires them as people and artists. “The chemistry between this band is special and we all feel it,” says Ford. “There’s a mutual respect between us. These are guys I’ve looked up to, having grown up here in California. I love this band.”

Letting the relaxed environment guide them, the band performed live in a semi-circle at the Compound and just let ‘er rip. “I do think the way the record was made has a lot to do with the vibe of the record,” Ford says. “To me, it’s just how you make records. I guess it has been so long since records have been made that way. It was like, ‘Wow. We’re all playing at the same time.’ It is cool to show up to rehearsal and everybody who’s there is happy to be there. ”

The band intended to eschew the standard blues record format and, as a result, they’ve created one of the most exciting blues efforts of 2008. “I didn’t want the traditional blues chord changes for these songs,” says Ford. “I had a very simple idea in mind: if we were not going to be a little bit different than what was already out there, then why are we recording the record?”

The proof, as they say, is in the puddin’. Take the song “Spaceman”, for example. Ford’s violent, human voice-like six-string psychedelic slide guitar playing straddles the fuzzy borders between The Delta and the outer (and inner) cosmos. “The song is in 7/4 time, so automatically that creates this dizzying effect of the music repeating in a very unusual way,” says Ford. “It’s a trance you get yourself into. If you repeat the same thing long enough you lose where you and your spirit begin and end.”

The crazy/beautiful blues-rock bonanza “Freedom Fighter” underwent an incredible creative metamorphosis and surfaced as one of the record’s most unusual and ebullient gems. “That was an old Burning Tree song I wrote a long time ago,” says Ford. “The chords are dramatic, and I knew there was something in the song, but could never really pull it off any time I wanted to record or perform it. I just hadn’t found a band that could nail it the way I had heard it. But this band immediately went to it, naturally. These guys really get what I’m doing and where I’m going. The older I get the more I realize that I don’t have to work as hard to achieve the musical concepts and effects. The reason the song –and the record -- has a vibe is because there is space left for silence. Everyone’s been around and played long enough to know what not to play.”

The sparseness, elasticity (in part thanks to upright bass player John Bazz’s swing feel) and biting slide-guitar leads of songs like the aforementioned “Freedom Fighter”, “Last Time Around Again”, and “Don’t Get Me Killed” are so raw, so soulful, so accomplished they can only be categorized as “new-classic.” As Ford explains, it’s the space between the notes that counts.

“I don’t want to play as fast as I can and jump through hoops,” says Ford. “That is not what music is to me.”

But don’t be fooled by the band’s obvious desire to pick their spots. There’s plenty of fire on these tracks. It’s simply smokin’ with Hendrix-like textural swatches, insightful (and subtly incisive) lyrical wittiness and roots-rock integrity and intensity. “Go Too Soon” might be rife with puerile double entendre, but the song’s mannish-boy, tongue-in-cheek sexual innuendo is an extension of the time-tested Chuck Berry/Jerry Lee Lewis/Muddy Waters male libido music school extolling the beauty of hot kicks and tempting chicks. Mike Malone’s clever lyrics for “Pay For My Mistakes” might be describing a desperate and dire situation, but its dark humor laughs at life – and death. “It’s a clever song because Mike laughs at himself to get through the rough patches,” Ford says.

The jam sessions that framed these tracks are reminiscent of the sweaty workouts of Ford’s funky Black Crowe days. Out of step with most of mainstream rock when they first came on the scene, The Black Crowes gained legendary status for their near-spiritual, jam-heavy live performances.

“We talked about it being ‘church’ in a way,” says Ford. “They call music the universal language because you can get across something without words. In its truest form it’s healing.”

Ford recorded three studio albums with The Crowes, including the certified double platinum 1992 record The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion (a watershed moment for blues- and soul-rock at a time when the industry was in the stranglehold of grunge rock), Amorica. and Three Snakes and One Charm. Ford’s gutsy guitar playing helped to solidify the band’s reputation as must-see live band.

“The level of playing intensity that we all encouraged each other to rise to was like gearing up for the NFL playoffs every day,” says Ford. “The focus it took was a real great lesson for me.”

Since parting ways with The Crowes, Ford has kept very busy: among other projects, Ford has toured and recorded with Ben Harper, released two solo records (Weary and Wired and It’s About Time), garnered a Grammy in the Best Traditional Soul Gospel Album category and an NAACP award for his collaborative work with Harper and The Blind Boys of Alabama on 2004’s There Will Be Light, produced (and made a guest appearance on) Texan singer-songwriter Ryan Bingham’s critically acclaimed twangy-bluesy-Americana-rock debut, Mescalito, released through the Lost Highway label (and, as of this writing, is putting the finishing touches on the Bingham’s second effort), rejoined The Crowes in 2005 for a reunion tour, and carved out his own niche on the Web at http://www.myspace.com/marcfordmusic.

Ford continues to shape his musical identity with each diverse project he chooses to work on. These last few years have been especially liberating for Ford, musically and personally. “When I stopped trying so hard to fit in and impress people, that’s when I started to make [great music] it actually happened,” says Ford.

It’s only fittingly that The Neptune Blues Club’s record is teeming with sonic qualities ranging from the earthy and angelic to the anguished and downright demonic – all emotional territories a seasoned guitarist/songwriter isn’t afraid to explore. “I think the blues’ basic purpose is to exorcise demons and any issues you might have,” Ford says. “At one point in my life I had lots of ‘issues.’ I think that validates my work as a blues artist. I’ve been through some sh--, you know? When you create you have to be brave. You have to lay it out there as passionately as you can. You have to dig down deep. To serve music right, it takes sacrifice. You can’t fake it because if you do, people will know.”

 

Marc Ford tour dates:

10/31/08 Fri. Café Boogaloo, Hermosa Beach, CA

11/26/08 Wed. The Mint, Los Angeles, CA

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