When Tanya won’t be good no more – moving on with Frazey Ford
Review by Douglas Heselgrave
Oh, those early years of the twenty first century when Alt-country songs and the women who sang them stole our hearts! There was such a wealth of hurting progressive country tunes coming out around a decade ago that it was often easy to overlook what we had amongst that embarrassment of riches. Lucinda was peaking, Gillian Welch put out an album a year – each better than the last – and out of Vancouver came the Be Good Tanyas, a rambling, folksy unit with hearts of fire, their souls and politics worn proudly on their sleeves.
The Tanya’s first album, “Blue Horse” was one of those rare records – the Cowboy Junkies’ “Trinity Sessions” also comes to mind – that had an atmosphere and a vibe that can’t be contrived or duplicated. Somehow the Tanyas managed to conjure up a sound that recalled the Appalachians of our imagination while at the same time embracing a vibrant, sexy modernity that attracted many people who wouldn’t usually be drawn to roots music. The trio of Frazey Ford, Trish Klein and Sam Parton came flying out of the fertile East Van Commercial Drive music scene and quickly became the darlings of the Canadian Folk Circuit while at the same time making serious inroads into America and England.
The next few years a heady blur as 2001’s “Blue Train” was followed by “Chinatown” in 2003 and after an extended hiatus “Hello Love” came out three years later in 2006. Neither of their subsequent albums – despite some wonderful performances and great songs – captured the essence of what made their debut so magical, and after another break the trio parted ways after their most successful tour ever which culminated with a sold out gig at London’s Royal Albert Hall.
After they split up, Sam Parton travelled, lived in America and made guest appearances on recordings by such diverse artists such as Ferron and Tribecastan. Trish Klein continued working with her other band, Po’Girl while Frazey Ford took off time to have a baby and consider what to do with the rest of her life.
Four years later, Frazey Ford’s newly released ‘Obadiah’ is the first true solo album by a member of ‘The Be Good Tanyas’ and the good news is that it’s certainly worth the wait. Not surprisingly, Trish Klein appears on almost every track and her tasteful, rootsy electric guitar brighten up the overall feel and ambience of the record. John Raham, the Be Good Tanya’s drummer produced ‘Obadiah’ and added percussion, so in many ways, the sound that Ford explores here will sound familiar to her many fans.
Saying that, ‘Obadiah’ is much more than a ‘Be Good Tanyas’ record without Sam Parton. The sound Ford creates here is truly all her own, and though her voice may take a little time getting used to when it’s up so front and centre – and not blended by Parton and Klein’s harmonies – she has clearly grown as a singer and interpreter of songs since she last recorded.
Ford’s is a powerful, emotive instrument, and it is wonderful to hear her take her take her time wrapping her voice around a phrase. Over the years she has developed a style of annunciation and delivery that is very idiosyncratic and expressive. At first, she can sound a little affected and controlled – thoughts of ‘nobody can sing like that’ came into my head as she picked up steam on the opening ‘Firecracker’ – but if one relaxes, gives her time, and allows her to find her groove and power, it doesn’t take long to realize that Ford has become a powerfully nuanced vocalist. At times her approach is similar to Billie Holiday’s – though she sounds little like her – as she doesn’t so much sing as wrap herself around words, sometimes caressing and sometimes roughhousing them out.
‘Obadiah’ features thirteen songs that sound like they were spontaneously recorded on somebody’s back porch or in their kitchen. The music is informal and lilting, but emotive enough to suggest and augment the stories residing inside of Ford’s increasingly interesting original songs. There is an uncomplicated grace that permeates throughout ‘Obadiah’, and for the first time since ‘Blue Horse’ the true beauty and depth of Ford’s rustic charm has been captured on a recording. From ‘Firecracker’ which opens the album with its poignant narrative and aching, rumbling vocals to the evocative cover of Dylan’s ‘One more cup of Coffee’ (that kills recent versions by Robert Plant and Jack White) that demonstrates her understated mastery of interpretation, ‘Obadiah’ is a wonderfully revelatory album that will grow on you and get deeper under your skin with each successive play. Beautiful!
This review also apears at www.restlessandreal.blogspot.com
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