CD review: Frazey Ford's 'Obadiah'
Friday, July 30, 2010
Kindred spirits: Joni Mitchell, the Be Good Tanyas, Corinne Bailey Rae Frazey Ford's warm voice is instantly recognizable to any fan of her former group, the Be Good Tanyas. But unlike that trio and its folksy air, Ford's solo work has more of a smoky, soulful mood. On her first solo album, "Obadiah," she especially channels the
laid-back, lilting tone of Corinne Bailey Rae; the sultry "Lay Down With You" is at once reminiscent of the British R&B star.
Like Bailey Rae, Ford takes her time. These songs have an unhurried tempo that brings a focus to her voice. And even though her imprecise enunciation sometimes makes words indistinguishable, her tone is always clear. "Half In" has a lonely feel, and the uptempo "Bird of Paradise" carries an air of sorrow beneath its sunny surface. Ultimately, these songs are all about mood. With its deliberate pace, "Lost Together" conveys the melancholy of looking back at a relationship, while Ford's detached vocals on "If You Gonna Go" capture the numbness of a breakup. She adds distinguishing accents -- a string section here, handclaps or a horn blast there -- but the mellow, soulful vibe of "Obadiah" tends to blur the line between songs.
-- Catherine P. Lewis
From Tuesday's Globe and Mail
Published on Tuesday, Jul. 20, 2010 12:00AM EDT
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.
The Canadian singer Frazey Ford and her band have figured out a cumulative average from the sounds of two old records: Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” and Neil Young’s “Harvest.” Two albums released within two weeks of each other in 1972. Memphis soul and Northern California folk-rock: not too far apart from each other, as it turns out.
On “Obadiah” you hear direct echoes from those earlier records: strong and easy fourfour grooves, small string arrangements, and little drop-ins of organ, harmonica and banjo. (As a whole it’s closer to “Harvest” — sometimes too close.) But Ms. Ford’s voice has little to do with Al Green or Neil Young. It’s light, throaty, flickering. She deals out soul and mountain-music style and Scots-Irish lilts in bold ways. It’s hard to think of
another singer who suggests Dolly Parton, Ann Peebles and Feist. She phrases intuitively, waiting on a word and then drawing it out, and turns good lyrics to oatmeal, adding strange new colors to vowels, making whole syllables vanish. There’s an eerily calm conscience at the center of the record — stoic or forgiving or just blank — and you find yourself listening hard for the wisdom in her mumbles. She’s good at this.
“Obadiah,” Ms. Ford’s first solo album, sounds different from her work over the past 10 years with the folk-country vocal trio, the Be Good Tanyas. That music is folkier, breathier, wispier; this record has its feet on the ground.
The lyrics observe various emotional scenes from a safe distance, tiredly forgiving them or waving them away. There’s no active frustration here, even in the tearjerkers. In “Blue Streak Mama,” she cops to her own inability to act in a compromised relationship, but doesn’t seem bothered by it; in “Hey Little Mama,” she consoles a friend who’s struggling with motherhood and an uncooperative boyfriend or husband, but stops short
of assigning blame. “You’re trying to be for somebody what nobody was for you,” she sings. “Did you think that this would be the hardest thing you’d ever do?”
What works best about the record is how much control Ms. Ford has over its atmosphere, even as she lets her words dip down and hide under the music. In “Goin’ Over” the record’s stillest song, she’s addressing someone withdrawing from life. “I know the world has got to be too much for you,” she trills quietly. Twice in the song, getting back to the verse, she shushes the band.
Frazey Ford !Obadiah (7.1)
For 10 years now, Frazey Ford has been harmonizing sweetly and trading verses with the two other members of the
Be Good Tanyas, whose easygoing vocals and rustic folk-pop have made them mainstays on Vancouver's music
scene. In going solo, she's carving out her own niche while proving that she can anchor a full album on her own.
Perhaps because she has taken the step of recording under her own name, or perhaps because like all new solo artists
she has something to prove, the slow-burn Obadiah sounds more ambitious than her work with the Tanyas. She
gingerly stretches and reshapes her band's sound to include new styles and genres and to place the weight squarely
on her own carefully observed songwriting.
And yet, even as Ford tiptoes between soft jazz, smoky soul, and austere country, Obadiah is defined as much by
what she doesn't do as by what she actually does. Without the powerhouse voice of Neko Case or Kelly Hogan, she
never belts or hollers, never raises her voice or grasps for high drama. Picking her words apart by the vowels, she
keeps her vocals relatively low, slows her tempos, and soft-sells these songs. Her dried cornhusk of a voice sounds
like she's channeling her interior monologue, even if she's singing from other points of view-- such as the seen-it-all
rogue featured in "Firecracker" or the regretful parent remembering better days on "Lost Together". Even without
her harmonizing Tanyas, Ford proves a sure presence through Obadiah, inhabiting these songs comfortably and
conveying smirking sass as naturally as simmering lust or downhearted regret. "I can't think, I can't use my brain,"
she sings on "I Like You Better", "I can't think no more." It's the album's catchiest hook and a telling moment not
only because she exudes such romantic abandon, but because Ford actually sounds like she singing without thinking.
Producer John Raham calibrates the music to complement but never intrude on Ford's vocals, giving extra weight to
his own drums, which gently nudge along the dusky "Lay Down with You" and her cover of Bob Dylan's "One
More Cup of Coffee". Stax brass builds gently through "If You Gonna Go", gently punctuating her anguished
farewell, and fellow Tanya Trish Klein casually interjects spidery guitar licks to bolster the bluesy come-ons of
"Blue Streak Mama". Ford is studiously avoiding alt-country caricature-- no galloping hoedowns here-- and setting
and sustaining a grave mood throughout album the album. Consequently, the tempos remain rigorously uniform
across these 13 tracks, as though quickening the pace might change the genre or break the spell. It makes for a
warmly moody, albeit strangely static album.
— Stephen M. Deusner, August 3, 2010 http://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/14445-obadiah/