Christopher the Conquered: I Am Christopher (Grand Phony Music) Review

The Iowa songwriter's latest effort combines his familiar, Randy Newman-inspired vocals with some new oddball experimentation — and a guest appearance by Tiger King's Carole Baskin

It’s been four years since Chris Ford’s Christopher the Conquered has released a full length album, and on that one he gave up on rock and roll. So how do you follow up a statement like that?

Well, no one really believed he gave up on rock and roll ENTIRELY, of course, but, in the meantime, he’s released some singles and EPs, recorded some covers, and now, in 2020, he’s back with a new full-length album, I Am Christopher. (Listen to it here.) It was released last Friday, on the same day and label as the new album from Gloom Balloon, another of Ford’s projects.

There seems to be a trend in current indie rock and pop to have short albums, and short songs, and I Am Christopher joins this trend, coming in at a svelte nine songs, 31 minutes, no muss, and no fuss, with a couple songs not even hitting the two-minute mark. This is honestly where Ford shines as a songwriter — when he keeps his ideas lean and mean, they really get a chance to dazzle.

Lead track (and single) “Pick Up The Telephone” comes in like a breath of fresh air, with hip-hop cadence welded to the lyrics, and it really propels the song along. And in a bit of a WTF moment, Ford has also managed to get Tiger King star Carole Baskin to appear in the video for the tune. (Also see our March 2017 commentary by Ames resident Barbara Fisher, who was featured in the Netflix documentary’s second episode.) In fact, the entire song is kind of a WTF moment, but in the best possible sense, as Ford sings about a Garfield phone, suddenly switching the song to the melody of “Rich Girl” by Hall & Oates at one point. Only, you know, with more Garfield.

From there, the second song (and single!), “Put It On Your Credit Card,” keeps the catchiness going, with a minute-and-a-half ditty about charging your future that will have you dancing in your chair.

Ford hasn’t completely abandoned his roots, though, and we also get some of the gospel influence that’s been a staple of Christopher the Conquered albums of old in “Try Again,” and also some of the power ballads he’s known for (“This Is Not Love,” “You Can’t Rush The Rain,” “Slowest Girl In The World”). But this time around, the production seems to have ramped up, with the drums in particular sounding extra meaty, along with some solid string arrangements and incredible vocal harmonies.

It’s fun to hear Ford take chances on this record, and you can almost hear his mold breaking at points — outside of the hip-hop moments, some ’60s pop (complete with tambourine) sneaks in on “Love Is Not Something You Find,” and “The Old Record Store Down By The Sea” slyly morphs from a ballad to an Irish sea dirge before closing out the album. One of my favorite tunes on the record is “Ordinary Person,” which deftly balances Ford’s Randy Newman lyrical influence with some very cinematic mood and production. Someone should use this tune in a film immediately!

Mixing in tried and true songwriting with some genuinely oddball and incredibly fun new ideas, I Am Christopher is a great snapshot of an artist who is incredibly focused, but also chomping at the bit a little to chew up some new musical territory.

Bryon Dudley
Bryon Dudley is a writer and musician from Ames. He has written about music and other topics for a number of local publications and blogs. When not playing music and putting out albums with groups such as Strong Like Bear, Liana, and Rockets of Desire, he is helping other Iowa artists record their music at his studio, The Spacement, and releasing it on the Iowa label he co-founded, Nova Labs. He has a tattoo of an aardvark and is adjusting to bifocals.