New York Times

Critic's Choice - New CD's
Sun, 2010-07-18

FRAZEY FORD
“Obadiah” (Nettwerk)
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.

BEN RATLIFF