By the time he released Songs for the Road in 2007, singer/songwriter David Ford had already recorded a pair of full length albums with his band, Easyworld as well as a 2005 solo album. His voice as a songwriter was already well established, and thus Songs for the Road finds Ford settling into a particular style and groove. Lyrically, Ford seems to have studied from the Leonard Cohen book of songwriting, drawing upon vivid emotions and occasional religious imagery to create songs that are deep, personal, and slightly enigmatic. Ford couples these lyrics with either a rich and lush instrumentation or far more sparse arrangements that place emphasis on his voice. Some of the arrangements work better than others, and these songs come at the beginning of the album, making Songs for the Road a frontloaded record.
Ford starts off with a combination of three songs that are nothing short of incredible. The first of these, and by proxy the album’s opening track, is “Go To Hell.” Here we have a contrast between Ford’s heavily embittered tone and lyric and the beautifully sweet melody that propels the song. The string section is really the driving force of the music but as the song rolls along it continues to build in a remarkably powerful way. Part of that power is from the aforementioned contrast when Ford repeatedly sings the titular phrase in an almost pained voice.
“Decimate” follows this and while it lacks the intensity of the build-up that “Go To Hell” had, it features a build-up all its own and a steadily upbeat musical performance, almost resembling a Motown song at the start. The percussion track has that kind of ‘60s stamp on it and but once the strings and piano enter into the mix, the song takes on an identity all its own. Ford’s voice is in excellent form as he sings, “You decimate my inhibitions, I can’t be saved,” and escalating in tone and emotion during the second half of the line. It’s a terrific piece and made for a wise choice for a single.
Changing up the tone comes, “I’m Alright Now,” a more introspective and quieter song to start. Gentle strings and sporadic percussion accompany Ford and his guitar through the song’s opening and verses. Ford’s voice and the string section really assert themselves during the chorus, perhaps mirroring the singer’s sense of denial. The song deals with someone whom after a break-up is claiming he’s alright, but with lyrics like, “And television is just some weak anesthetic/To numb the senses ‘til you’re out like a light/Like all these drugs they seem to promise you the earth/And then they don’t keep you warm in the night” it’s apparent the singer is far from alright, he’s still tortured by the love he had.
The title track is where the album starts to lose its energy. Up until now, each song had featured some sort of staggering build-up that hammered home the emotional weight of the lyric. While it’s not necessary to expect the same from every song, it does feel a bit misleading to hear these three tremendous pieces of music, and then never revisit those heights again. For what it is, “Song for the Road” is a beautifully written love song from a man on the road to his loved one at home, but it pales in comparison to what was just heard.
The most up-tempo things get from this point on are the tracks “Train” and “Nobody Tells Me What to Do.” The latter of these is nice, but feels like filler. There’s nothing that Ford introduces either lyrically or musically that sounds inspired. That’s fortunately not the case with“Train” though as Ford writes about a man coming home to his girl having left her before in hopes of finding something more in life. Between the guitar and the harmonica, there’s a pretty strong rhythm to the music and the closest we get to the strength of the album’s start.
“Requiem” is an oddity amongst the other songs, lyrically it’s open for interpretation but it seems to be channeling some sort of funeral; the question is for what or whom? As would be expected, the song has a dirge feel to it, until rather unexpectedly, near the song’s closing minute and a half, it launches into this raucous, rocking, affair. Perhaps this is supposed to symbolize the more celebratory angle of a funeral, but it still comes off as sounding out of place.
The remaining two songs, “St. Peter” and “…And So You Fell” are both well-constructed from a lyrical standpoint, but aren’t as compelling musically, partly again because the album is so overly frontloaded that it sets the bar way too high. David Ford’s Songs for the Road has some amazing, must-listen songs on it, but it’s not a great album overall. If Ford had managed to maintain the energy, excitement, and punch of the first three songs here, he would’ve constructed something stellar. Instead we have an album that is occasionally fascinating, but not to the level it could’ve been.