Tue, 2010-07-20

Brad Wheeler
From Tuesday's Globe and Mail
Published on Tuesday, Jul. 20, 2010 12:00AM EDT
Frazey Ford
Toronto’s loss is Toronto’s gain. Frazey Ford, the trill-voiced storyteller, signed on this summer for Lilith dates in Calgary, Edmonton and her home base of Vancouver. But when Sarah McLachlan’s femfest arrives in Toronto on Saturday, Ford won’t be on the bill – she will be at the nearby Hillside Festival, an appearance that follows the launch for her rich new album, Obadiah, at Hugh’s Room in Toronto on Wednesday.
Ford, one-third of the currently disbanded Americana trio the Be Good Tanyas, records for Nettwerk, the label behind Lilith. She describes her solo debut as being inspired by “motherhood, earth and land.” My word, we haven’t seen anyone this Lilith since Kelsey Grammer’s tightly wound Cheers wife. And yet, at its Toronto stop, the mother of all mother-earth shows is without what should have been its star daughter.
Consistently rewarding, Obadiah is an album of approachable country soul, presented by an artist who recalls the pop charm of Melanie, the gentler side of Otis Redding, the striking colours of Joni Mitchell, the confidence of Buffy Sainte-Marie and the odd, breathy lilts of Cat Power or Feist.
“You’re trying to be for somebody what nobody was for you,” Ford sings on the rolling, breezy Hey Little Mama. “Did you think that this would be the hardest thing you’d ever do?” A new mother, questioning herself, is ultimately assured: “You’ll love her like you never thought you could.”
On the hazy seventies vibe of Lost Together, Ford perhaps inhabits her own mother, who worryingly looks back on a free-spirited generation: “We were just a pair of kids/ Oh, the stupid things we did, in the madness they were callin’ the revolution.”
One problem: Ford is given to freestyle pronunciation, which is wonderful to hear, but the words aren’t always comprehensible.
There’s a bit of black-water banjo to the intriguing Firecracker, but other tracks depart from the countryfolk
of the Be Good Tanyas. For instance, Blue Streak Mama, where Ford questions the relationship she’s in, is sultry, vamping R&B. On the same day that Sheryl Crow releases 100 Miles From Memphis and Marc (Walking in Memphis) Cohn issues Listening Booth: 1970, it may be Ford who makes the most convincing time-travelling visit to the musical west Tennessee city.
Frazey Ford plays the Blacksheep Inn, Wakefield, Que., on Tuesday; Hugh’s Room, Toronto, on Wednesday; and the Hillside Festival, Guelph, Ont., on Saturday.