Even without Tanyas, Ford is feeling good
In the fine print of the liner notes, Frazey Ford acknowledges the people who inspired her debut solo album, “Obadiah.’’ She gives thanks to “the babies, the mamas, the grandfolk, the freaks, the farmers, the dreamers, the healers.’’
It’s a heartfelt dedication for an album so concerned with community and the bonds we forge with family and friends. The record announced Ford’s arrival as a solo artist after nearly a decade with the Be Good Tanyas, a rootsy Canadian folk band that went on hiatus around 2008.
For her debut in the spotlight, Ford, who plays at Club Passim tonight, rippled beyond that group’s particular sound. Largely overlooked, “Obadiah’’ was one of last year’s most beguiling listens, a loose exploration of how folk and country can intersect with soul and R&B.
“We wanted it to blend these two really different influences that I have - old-timey folk and my love of groove and soul and subtle ’70s smooth R&B production,’’ Ford says recently from her home in Vancouver. “We thought, ‘Can we make a marriage of these things?’ but also wanted to see what happened accidentally. It was a lot less difficult than I expected.’’
That fluidity is reflected in the album’s organic production. Recorded mostly live with few overdubs, the songs give the impression that they were laid down deep into the night, a row of empty beer bottles lined up on the floor. It helped that Ford already had a natural kinship with her backing musicians, including Trish Klein, a fellow founding member of the Be Good Tanyas who will be accompanying Ford at Passim tonight. It wasn’t until that band took a break that Ford felt ready to make a statement of her own.
“There’s a period in your artistic development when you’re struggling so hard and you’re so precious about your creative baby,’’ says Ford, who’s 36. “And then there’s this other moment where you sit back and all the work you’ve done before flows out more easily.’’
“It took me a long time to decide to do that,’’ she adds. “With my other band, I could sort of be out front and then I could hide for a while. Nobody knew my name. Now when I’m on stage I’m much more exposed. I can handle it, but you’re not quite as safe as you are in your nest in your band.’’
Ford admits she’s rather whimsical about how and when she makes music but also knows when to seize an opportunity. She recently recorded in Memphis at the invitation of Robert Gordon, a historian and author (“It Came From Memphis’’) who had worked with Chan Marshall on Cat Power’s soulful 2006 record, “The Greatest.’’ Ford says Gordon had heard one of her songs on the radio and called the station to find out who sang it.
From there, the story became a fairy tale. Gordon looked Ford up on Wikipedia, saw her influences included soul greats like Al Green and Ann Peebles, and understood where she was coming from. He e-mailed her, but the introduction was just too surreal for Ford: “I was so freaked out by just the acknowledgement [she bursts into laughter] that I didn’t write him back for six months!’’
When she finally got in touch with Gordon, he orchestrated the Memphis sessions and put together the band. The next thing she knew, Ford was at Royal Studios working with some of the legendary players immortalized on classic soul recordings by her idols. Except now they were backing her.
“I was pinching myself the whole time. I mean, what the hell?,’’ Ford says, clearly still awestruck. “If my 20-year-old self had ever imagined. . .’’
James Reed can be reached at email@example.com.