When Frazey Ford says that music runs in her family, she's not referring to some great aunt who belts out show tunes after one too many hot toddies.
“My mom's family were French Canadians who lived along the Missouri River for many generations,” she says, reached at home in East Vancouver. “They would have these big parties with accordions and fiddles and singing. My mom grew up with that and as a result she sang a lot, so it all got passed down to me.”
You'd assume such a tradition exists in Ford's bloodline given her membership in folk-fest staple the Be Good Tanyas, but upon hearing her upcoming solo debut, Obadiah, some might wonder if there isn't a branch marked “Green” somewhere on that ol' family tree.
“You'll hear a lot of references to that Al Green kind of sound,” Ford says. “I'm trying to bridge the gap between that '70s folkish sound that I grew up with—the stuff the Be Good Tanyas always explored—and my other musical world, which is soul and gospel.”
It's a task the seasoned musician seemingly handles with great ease. Obadiah casually flows between stripped-down, countrified twang and supple bluesy grooves, with Ford's velveteen voice being the perfect compass for navigating both. Lead track “Firecracker” floats along with a creaky back-porch banjo line before a gospel-inspired chorus takes over the Appalachian-flavoured affair. Numbers like “I Like You Better” and “Bird of Paradise,” both of which swing with a mellow neo-soul beat enlivened by buttery vocals, play up the R&B angle.
With such a natural inclination toward the musical style of soul powerhouses Ann Peebles, Roberta Flack, and Donny Hathaway, why is it that Ford waited so long to unleash this sultry persona?
“I've basically gotten swept up in someone else's really strong vision with every other project,” she admits. “Not that it wasn't my vision too, but there was always someone else driving the train.
“It was nice to be the initiator this time,” she says.
Despite the album bearing her name alone, Ford goes to great lengths to recognize the contributions of her backing band, which includes the Be Good Tanyas' Trish Klein on guitar, as well as coproducer John Raham (Kinnie Starr, Po' Girl), who also manned the drum kit on the recording.
“Even when you're doing a solo project, you're still working with a band,” she explains. “If you're open to all their input and suggestions, then you get a lot of the experience and there ends up being cowriting and real spontaneous stuff.”
While Ford admits that she was a little intimidated to step out on her own, the decision has so far proved to be nothing but rewarding.
“It's a nice balance,” she says. “I get to have the elements of solo-ness in terms of fully directing the direction, but then I'm also able to incorporate other people's visions when it feels right.”
Frazey Ford plays Lilith Fair at West Vancouver's Ambleside Park on Canada Day (July 1).