By Hannah Steinkopf-Frank
It’s crazy to leave your successful band of four years to start a solo career but that is exactly what Sallie Ford, previously of Sallie Ford and the Sound Outside, did in December of 2013.
According to her website, Ford, who is based in Portland, said “I wish I could have an all-girl band.” So she made one. Ford formed an all-female group consisting of Cristina Cano (keyboards), Anita Lee Elliot (bass), and Amanda Spring (drums). Ford decided to expand outside of singing and is also her band’s guitarist. The group released their first album, Slap Back, in October with the intention of it being an “ode to all the babe rockers.”
Ford says bands like Heart, Joan Jett, PJ Harvey heavily influenced Snap Back. From the opening track “Intro,” the album is, as the title alludes to, an unabashed collection of songs brought together by Ford’s audacious lyrical style. In “Intro,” Ford croons, “Oh baby won’t you let me have you like I had you last night” with so much vocal reverb that it sounds like an echo on vinyl from the 1950s. But there’s no polite innuendos and this is one of the few songs on the album that has such an old, low-fi sound similar to Sallie Ford and the Sound Outside’s reliable, if not repetitive, rockabilly mold.
Slap Back seems to be Ford’s attempt to distance herself from this model with songs that sound like they came out after 1960. Throughout the record, Ford gets straight to the point, both lyrically and melodically, in a way that is refreshing, especially when delivered by her meek yet halting voice that is still reminiscent of ‘50s country, but also at many moments comparable to riot grrrl Sleater-Kinney. In this respect, Slap Back is successful, but the album goes from surf rock to garage rock to ‘50s rockabilly without developing a sound that is “Sallie Ford.”
While there is nothing wrong with experimentation, on tracks like “Workin’ The Job,” Ford seems to have lost her voice, both literally and figuratively over dirty guitar riffs and electronic studio production that feels out of place in the otherwise lo-fi sound. Sure, it’s rock music, but on this and other tracks, Ford relies too heavily on production. It’s this crutch which under the surfac, reveals songwriting that lacks originality.
That’s not to say that Slap Back doesn’t have its highpoints. “Oregon” is a poppy love song of sorts to Ford’s adoptive home state. On the track, over backing vocals, Ford yells, “Oregon you’re the prettiest I’ve seen,” and it could be a response to another song by an all-female band about Oregon: Sleater Kinney’s “Light Rail Coyote.”
“Give Me Your Lovin’” is also one of the more memorable garage rock songs on the album. While Ford seems to be holding back on vocals throughout the album, she goes all out on this track while also blending in nicely with the female background vocals. The mix between the softer background voices and Ford’s demanding vocals works well and is something she was never able to do before in a band with all men. “Give Me Your Lovin’” also features Ford’s guitar skills which, while somewhat lackluster, are a definite positive step in her new musical identity.
At its core, Slap Back is a listenable piece. The songs stand on their own and flow well together, but the album as a whole lacks a consistent message and sound. While much of the discussion around Slap Back has focused on how it compares to Ford’s earlier work, what is more significant is this album as the work of a solo artist trying to discover their sound. On “So Damn Low” Ford chants, “I’m never gonna be who I want to be, just like I’m never gonna be who they want.” Ford might not be who she wants to be, but she knows what she doesn’t want to be. She goes on to sing, “Gonna start off fresh. Gonna start off clean. Gonna learn to say what I really mean” and with Slap Back, she has done just that.