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Farewell Fireworks

Lou Ford go out with a bang

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The very first thing I ever wrote for Creative Loafing was a review of Lou Ford's debut full-length, Sad, But Familiar. As the years have passed, I've gone on to write hundreds of other reviews, both for this publication and others. Most of those reviews, in my humble opinion, were "better" -- perhaps more liberally sprinkled with wit, or possessing a keener sense of the nuances of the music being covered. But something about that initial review still sticks with me, even after all that time. You never forget your first, they say.

Like Waffle House regulars who take comfort in their Sad, But Familiar everytown lunchbox, Edwards and company find solace in melancholy, and in the bittersweet hum of feedback. They deftly maneuver their way through the 13 songs on Sad, But Familiar with the precision of a good church service, exorcising their demons with a knowledge that all pain does, really, is show a person what really matters to them.

Fast-forward almost five years to the day. After a month or two of speculation, it appears the rumors are true: Lou Ford, after one of the most storied runs in recent Charlotte music history, are calling it quits. No more Hard Times Family Picnics, or whatever they called it after another local venue took the original name. No more rowdy Double Door throw-downs ending in the wee hours of the night, and no more middle fingers to the local music establishment. For Alan Edwards, Chad Edwards, Darrell Ussery, Jason Atkins and Jeffrey Larish, this is goodbye, so long, it's time to say goodnight. Bet on some serious fireworks.

Everyone liked them, pretty much. Punks, alt.country fans, and glam rockers all agreed there was an honesty there, a certain je ne sais quoi you couldn't quite put your finger on. They had musical respect, even from the folks who preferred to spend their time constructing barbs instead of barre chords. The songs spoke mostly of the ebb and flow of personal relationships, and of the Sisyphus-like existence most of us south of "middle-class" recognize as Our Life. Like Camus, the boys knew there was joy to be found even in the midst of such rock-rolling, something that those unwilling to stop and sit a spell would never ever find. They had critical respect, too, and from some of the best music magazines in the world -- Uncut and Mojo both talked the band up breathlessly -- and a show played in the Big Apple with Alejandro Escovedo even got the band a small write-up in The New York Times. Their music was distributed both in the United States and Europe, where they shared space on "best of" compilation CDs with the likes of Lucinda Williams and Paul Simon.

For whatever reason, the band never really took flight outside of the Southeast, despite well-attended shows and a couple of national tour jaunts. Just why is a good enough question, but figure the pressures of making a living had something to do with it, and perhaps the band's almost wholly Southern sound. This was music with ghosts singing the third register, to be applied as the listener saw fit. It was music that was personal, and, without the proper introduction folks around here got, perhaps it seemed a little too personal.

No one in Lou Ford ever asked me for a review -- whether out of punk ethics or pride -- but then again, they never needed to. There have been better musicians, and better lyricists. But few area bands have ever managed the sort of synthesis of music and message that Lou Ford did. Brothers Alan and Chad Edwards have always shared vocal and songwriting duties, and that familial, familiar element no doubt shades their music in an organic way, a sort of composting of shared experience and bloodline that is rather impossible to fake.

And ultimately, that's the rub. They never faked it. They never veiled their contempt for certain elements of Charlotte "society," and how they felt about their place in it (see the band's WEND-sponsored show where Alan Edwards asked how many bankers were in the audience, got a fair number of hands, and then responded with "this is an experimental number" before launching into minutes worth of feedback). They never pretended they or their shows were anything more than they were -- group therapy for those who didn't like groups. When the band had a bad show -- which happened on occasion -- you didn't feel cheated. You felt like, "You know what? Those guys are human." You put up with it, because you knew it was the tradeoff for some of the great shows you'd gotten before and would get again down the road. It was balanced music, in every sense of the word.

In "How Does It Feel," Lou Ford asks the musical question "How does it feel/To have something real/To have something true/and know it belongs to you?" Well, guys, you tell us.

The above paragraph was how I ended that original review half a decade ago. It still stands, to these eyes, even as various Lou Ford alumni have moved on to other bands, and, in some cases, other towns.

Come July 4, when Alan Edwards sings the part in the Sad, But Familiar favorite "Something/Ender" about "this is the last bar/the last bar of the last song," he'll be telling it like it is. Which, come to think of it, is the only way Lou Ford ever did anything.

The Penguin Drive-In (1921 Commonwealth Ave.) is hosting their annual Independence Day bash on July 4 with featured guests Lou Ford, Gigi Dover, David Childers and the Modern Don Juans and Dave Rhames. The music starts around 4:30pm and admission is free. For more information, call 704-375-6959.

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