By Chaz Kangas
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"Country music is where old genres go to die—or live," English professor and record-guide author David Cantwell truth-bombed at the EMP Pop Music Conference in Seattle last month. He was mainly talking blues chords, but in the '00s, the old stuff could just as well have been old-school Sugarhill-style hip-hop, via Kid Rock or Cowboy Troy. So now it's the '10s, and we've got Colt Ford: a 40-year-old, 300-pound Athens, Georgia, ex-golf-pro who road-dawgs 200 shows a year, revitalizing the kind of greasy, mud-spinning, r-dropping flows heard on early-aughts Southern-rap records. Since December 2008, he's put out two studio albums, a live album, and a Wal-Mart-exclusive EP/DVD—all on his own grass-roots Average Joe's Entertainment label. Three of those are currently in the top 70 of Billboard's country album chart; his new Chicken & Biscuits just entered both the country and rap charts in the Top 10.
Across all those releases, he shows off his scope. He drawls like Bubba Sparxxx against chitlin-circuit swamp guitars, an electro boombox, and chirping insects in "Cricket on a Line," a fishing song that's more just a repetitive chant. "Saddle Up" sounds like Juvenile-style New Orleans bounce at a barn dance; live, he stretches it past 13 jam-festival minutes. He shares Waffle House patty melts with his long-crunking fellow 300-pound Georgian, Bone Crusher, above a butt-rocking Steve Miller riff on "Gangsta of Love," and swings into even bigger-bottomed '70s biker-barbecue boogie for his new "Mud Flap" and "Ride on, Ride out," the latter featuring old-school principal DMC. In the '90s, he made a gangsta-rap album with Jermaine Dupri that never came out. But now, he guest raps with hip-hop-baiting redneck duo Montgomery Gentry, and covers everything from Usher's "Yeah" to Kiss's "Rock and Roll All Nite" (with Colt on drums—the instrument that taught him beats in the first place) to C.W. McCall's bicentennial CB-radio novelty "Convoy."
Again, this is a country guy. The man born Jason Brown might dance like Heavy D, but he looks like a good ol' boy. He might've graduated from the same college-town high school that gave us two B-52s, but his daddy was a used-car salesman who used to pick cotton and his momma's from a South Carolina mill town. He may've been a Junior All-American golfer who grew up to give putting lessons to No Doubt's drummer, but he also played football and baseball at Clarke Central, and after games—"This was still the South," he says—white players and black players headed to different parties. The Athens projects didn't scare him, but on his records, he still raps about how small-towners don't have to lock their doors. Mostly, though, he raps about deep-fried food, cheap beer, swimming holes, career women who aren't too snobby to skinny-dip, and single-wides with motors hanging from the tree.
On 2008's Ride Through the Country, Ford got a songwriting credit on every track; Chicken & Biscuits uses only outside writers on more than half, which actually helps: "Trailer Park Pulp Fiction" (credit: K. Garrett, M. Kosser) is a rare contemporary country song wherein "children of the corn" revel in their own dysfunction. The new album also takes a page from hip-hop's r&b-crossover playbook by having more country stars sing chorus hooks—a potentially canny commercial move, since songs designed for radio just might bankroll all the oddball boundary-stretching elsewhere. Either way, with Kid Rock now slated to host the CMT Awards this June, I, for one, will be severely disappointed if a multi-microphoned breakbeat-metal hick-hop throwdown medley of, say, Jerry Reed's "Amos Moses"/Trickeration's "Western Gangster Town"/Nazareth's "Hair of the Dog" isn't on the agenda.