taking a listen

by Ryan Snyder

reviews of the moment


Barely a minute into her sophomore album Dirty Radio, the Asheville-born, Portland-transplanted Sallie Ford frames her argument against popular music. “When I turn on the radio, it all sounds the same,” she protests in “I Swear” over a bobbing upright bassline. “What have these people done to music? I just don’t care anymore.” Maybe Ford was just born too late, because her throwback sound is so organic that you could spin it on crackly old vinyl and never believe there was a twenty-something responsible. Her voice possesses the musical DNA of Wanda Jackson, Patti Smith and Jolie Holland, defiantly assertive, yet lilting and a little bit feral all at the same time. In short, you haven’t heard anything quite like it in this epoch. She wields it over a crusty rockabilly soundtrack that speaks to fans of blues and punk alike that’s driven by bassist Tyler Tornfelt. The band challenges her with rhythmic puzzles that her woozy cadence sometimes disregards bluntly, but it speaks to the perpetual sense of conflict that troubles her songwriting. Like Gillian Welch, she some times narrates abstruse characterizations — “Thirteen Years Old” finds her assuming the identity of a newly orphaned young woman — but usually you get the sense that the subject is Ford herself. In “Write Me A Letter,” she nostalgizes polaroid photos and simpler forms of communication in a way that’s less contemplative than it is disdainful of progress. “Today I think I saw 10,000 cell phones/ But not one decent conversation,” she opines. There certainly is a captivating quirkiness to her shtick, like Abe Simpson on the front page with the headline “Old man yells at cloud.” With a voice as mesmerizing and backing that lends another dimension to it, you also get the sense that Ford has barely broken the surface of her creativity.


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