The first time you hear Frazey Ford’s voice, it commands attention. Full attention. Stop whatever you’re doing and LISTEN attention. At least that’s what happened to me.
Just over a year ago, Sean Hayes released Before We Turn To Dust, his 6th official album. That whole album is brilliant—arguably one of the best releases last year—but the closing track, "Innocent Spring" left me breathless. I wasn’t ready for those harmonies, if harmony is indeed what you’d call it. Sean Hayes sang straight ahead but there was this other voice singing around him. Fluttering around him. Like a hummingbird. The sonic interplay was like nothing I’d heard before.
But there are countless backup singers in the world who disappear into obscurity and I just chalked this up to something like that. But every time that track came on, I’d think about that voice. I just figured I’d never hear it anywhere else. Such is life. You win some. You lose some.
Eventually, I picked up a different Sean Hayes album, Outtakes and Alternatives, and there it was again on a different version of "When We Fall In." Different but unmistakably the same. Clearly it was time for some research. And as it turns out, this was no ordinary back-up singer.
Frazey Ford was one of three founding members of the Canadian folk band, The Be Good Tanyas. I had heard the name before but I had never sat down with their music. So I quickly took a listen but the tracks didn’t grab me the way I was expecting them to. So I jumped over to her solo debut, Obidiah. And there is was!
The album opens with the song "Firecracker" and I don’t know if it’s the banjo riff or the song structure or her soaring voice, but I was all in. Completely captivated. And then "Firecracker" melts into "Lay Down With You." Music Supervisors out there take note. If there’s a song that tugs on your emotional state of being better than this one, I haven’t heard it yet. And it only gets better from there. In my world, this is a must-own album. Just wait until you hear the groove on "Blue Streak Mama."
Obidiah is loose and free and it drips with heart and soul. The album was recorded in the Vancouver studio of co-producer and multi-instrumentalist John Raham. The atmosphere was simple and laid back. No crazy pre-production. No over the top overdubs. Music was being made for the simple sake of making music. Trish Klein, former band mate from The Be Good Tanyas, sat in to lay down the guitars. The next-door neighbor, Caroline Ballhorn, contributed vocals. Even Frazey’s landlord stopped by to play keys.
As Frazey put it in her album release bio, “I began to write just for the joy of it. I realized that I was just me, and for the first time I understood that was enough. Not being in a band allowed me to feel less worried about things working out in a certain way.”
I guess you could say she found her voice. And others took notice.
For while Obidiah may not have cracked the top 40 charts, it got rave reviews from critics at The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Boston Globe. Other songwriters paid attention too. Megafaun asked Frazey to sing with them on the track “Everything We’re Headed For” off their 4th album. And then they invited her to be part of the Songs of the South project. And here’s where this story really gets interesting. Everything up ‘till now was just my preamble.
For you see, in 1959, Alan Lomax took off for a 2 year song collecting expedition into the American Southeast. In 1961, he released Sounds Of The South - A Musical Journey From The Georgia Sea Islands To The Mississippi Delta Recorded In The Field By Alan Lomax. This is one of the most definitive collections of American music ever recorded and it is difficult to fully convey the cultural significance of these recordings. In 2010, Megafaun, Justin Vernon and Matthew E. White from Fight The Big Bull paid homage to the collection by putting together a series of concerts that breathed new life into the highly revered collection of old-time hymns, deep delta blues and plaintive folk ballads. And last June, the Sounds of the South concerts were recreated at the Sydney Opera House. Frazey Ford was invited to lend her unique vocal patterns to the show.
I can not think of many things more exciting to share with the Head-fi community than this. The collection of talent on stage was overwhelmingly palpable. And while it must have been something truly amazing to witness as an audience member, I have to imagine that it was just as magical and memorable to be part of it onstage. I don't think that any of the performers just accidentally happened to fall into this opportunity. You have to believe that they're all carrying some serious weight. Check this out.
Stay tuned for more. This is part one of a two part series.
Mike Dias is a huge fan of music, of telling stories, and of laughing. And lucky for him, he’s somehow managed to make somewhat of living from this. He designs funny and creative apps for the iPhone. He is the music supervisor for Ultimate Ears and he writes about music and the music industry. He’s always happy to talk about artists, apps, and in-ears so feel free to reach out about any of those topics. Email him directly.
Edited by Mike Dias - 10/3/13 at 7:46am