Album Review: Colt Ford - Declaration of Independence
By: Bobby Peacock
Colt Ford is quite the anomaly in country music. While radio has yet to make room for him, Ford has cultivated a rather strong "underground" following over his last three albums. Even more impressively, he's managed to do this on his own label, Average Joe's. It's this grass-roots approach that I think makes him such an interesting "underground" act — made all the more interesting by his very non-standard genre choice of country-rap. His fourth album, Declaration of Independence, finds him once again bridging the gap between two diametrically opposite genres with skill.
"Answer to No One" is quite the sonic mix: crunchy guitar, banjo and fiddle, the "stomp stomp clap" beat of "We Will Rock You," and lyrics that firmly assert Ford's beliefs. While the lyrics appear at first glance to be the same "god, family, and country" tropes we've heard a billion times, they are kept from tediousness by several clever turns of phrase, particularly the hook "Except for the Good Lord up above, I answer to no one." Labelmate JJ Lawhorn handles the chorus, sounding uncannily like Chris Cagle.
Jason Aldean joins in on "Drivin' Around Song," which is surprisingly unhurried and relaxed as it takes a different approach. Instead of burning rubber, this song is about the kind of casual cruisin' without worries — "circlin' the town square" or just exploring the back roads of Small Town USA. It's probably the same small town that he misses in "Back." It's a beautiful, detail-heavy ode to simpler times. Jake Owen's voice on the chorus is sincere and longing, as is Colt's recitation of little details such as an overprotective girlfriend's dad, a Texaco station that's now closed, and a skating rink. Especially effective is the last verse, in which he praises his parents and wishes that they could be around forever. The outright sincerity and rich imagery of the song easily make it one of Colt's best.
"50/50," the only song on which Colt flies solo, is yet another anthem of redneck pride. Unlike the others, it's just a little too aggressive and defensive, but at the same time, I can't help but smile at a hook about a "50/50 chance" of getting your ass whipped.
"All In" sounds outright honky-tonk, with a two-step beat, plenty of fiddle and steel, and a lively chorus from Kix Brooks. Although it doesn't say anything new, it's very tightly written and it soundslike the fun kind of party it promises. And speaking of parties, "Hugh Damn Right" is a punny title that jumped out at me. Colt and co. carry out an interesting character sketch about that kind of party animal who seems to out-drink and out-party his companions every time (think "One in Every Crowd"). Laura Bell Bundy randomly jumps in on the narrator in the last verse, adding an interesting little twist as he offers her a good time with the title phrase.
LoCash Cowboys and Redneck Social Club back the interestingly-titled "Dancin' While Intoxicated." It's easily the most mainstream on the album with its drum machines and Auto-Tuned vocals. Even as he's cleverly name-dropping country songs in the first verse, the song would not be out of place next to, say, Pitbull or Drake. But we're still in the bar. In fact, there's plenty of "Room at the Bar" for both Colt and Corey Smith. it's a very enjoyable shuffle as he promises a place to get away from the troubles of the world for everyone. This inclusionist spirit is a truly nice touch. "All of My Tomorrows" (with Russell Dickerson) further shows how much of a friendly party animal Colt really is, as he says that he will trade of all of his tomorrows just to have more fun. This song excels with its soaring, slower chorus contrasting its faster verses.
"Ain't Out of the Woods Yet" (with Montgomery Gentry) is an interesting take on the city/country dichotomy. Though he now lives in suburbia, the narrator is still shooting a bow or a gun, talking like a Southerner, and of course, partying 'til late as night. In fact, I could see this fitting on a Montgomery Gentry album, as it fits their own brand of rowdiness to a tee. Keeping once again in the "country boy" mold, "It's All" is a list song of country imagery in the form of "It's all X, It's all Y, It's all Z." Between the heavy guitar and Jeffrey Steele's raw, grainy voice on the chorus, it sounds much like Craig Morgan's "Little Bit of Life" cranked up to 11. While it may be a "list song," it's an extremely focused one with a lot of passion and energy that's hard to deny.
Songwriter Jonathan Singleton backs Colt on "Lucky." Even though it sounds great (how many other country songs use a güiro and agogô?) and has a sweet chorus of "I'd rather be lucky than good," the verses are a mess: something about a southpaw pitcher, racing a train with a truck, running a red light, talking to a hot girl. Halfway through, the song switches to a country-boy rap for a bit, then again to a power chord-laden coda in which he brags, "Colt Ford pumpin', got the girls all jumpin'." Overall, the song is so extremely unfocused that it seriously detracts from the interesting ingredients.
Wanya Morris of Boyz II Men adds a little R&B flavor on a song about the conflicting emotions of falling in love. While Morris is in fine voice, the overdubs sometimes get the best of him and make it hard to discern what he's singing. Otherwise, it's a very tuneful, soulful departure from the album. "Way Too Early" (with Darius Rucker) is at the tail end of a relationship, and comes across as a more upbeat version of Rucker's own excellent "I Got Nothin'."
Closing out the album is the nearly seven-minute "Angels & Demons," featuring a nearly haunting chorus of "What a Friend We Have in Jesus" from Lamar Williams, Jr. (Yes, he's the son of The Allman Brothers Band's Lamar Williams.) It's a surprisingly dark, honest tale of the struggle between good and evil. Particularly effective is an off-the-cuff but sincere prayer about 3/4 of the way through — especially when he points out how people are fighting wars and tend to shun God, but at the same time, he's needed more than ever. Many male artists lately tend to close with introspective and often religious themed songs, and I can believe almost all of them, but none moreso than Colt's take. I haven't heard a song that chronicles that good-and-evil struggle so effectively and tunefully since "Cain's Blood" by 4 Runner. As one of several Craig Wiseman co-writes, it more than makes up for the two clunkers ("Lucky" and "50/50") to which Wiseman also contributed.
Colt Ford has one of the most fascinating sounds to come out of country music in recent years, and I'm glad to see him having success, even if only at an "underground" level. He may not ever find a radio hit, but his fanbase is loyal, and his artistry undeniable. Although most of his songs have "country boy" imagery (fried chicken, sweet tea, God, family, trucks, guns, hunting, etc.), he never feels pandering, clichéd, or (with one exception) overly defensive. He truly is a rough-edged but good-natured country boy who knows exactly what he's talking about, and he knows that there's more to life than partying. And just like before, he knows how to prove that country and rap are two great tastes that taste great together.