Sallie Ford & the Sound Outside - Dirty Radio
This just doesn't work. Or such was my first impression of Dirty Radio, the debut LP from Portland band Sallie Ford & the Sound Outside. That was coming from the rational, uptight side of my brain, though. Fortunately, some other, more curious sub-cortex within my music-addicted cranium convinced my fingers not to flip through my iPod for something else. On this album, what at first comes off as awkward and even irksome soon reveals itself as weirdly wonderful and addicting.
The secret weapon is the voice of Sallie Ford, herself. She growls, yelps, and generally comes off as petulant and pissed off across the majority these eleven tracks. Which would obviously work if this were punk rock, but it isn't. While Ford is busy going 'round the bend, the rest of The Sound Outside are swinging through a potpourri of rockabilly, Dixieland, surf, Western swing, and proto-garage. And it's not like the band are ushering a suped-up version of this sound into the 21st century, either. Ford's backing trio of guitarist Jeff Munger, upright bassist Tyler Tornfelt, and drummer Ford Tennis tend toward relaxed tempos and generally spare accompaniment. Their main job is to lay down a groove and provide an aesthetic that recalls Sun Studios and monophonic radio broadcasts through tweed speaker cabinets. It's a rare moment, like the bridge in "Against the Law," when these guys rock out.
It's Sallie Ford who pulls the sound of Dirty Radio forward into the modern age - or, at least, the punk rock age. Although it would be inaccurate to compare her band to X, there are times when Ford brings to mind Exene Cervenka's perfectly imperfect singing. But, whereas X tore through their material, Sallie Ford & the Sound Outside prefer to amble along. So, instead of contributing a unified surge of aggression, Ford's vocals evoke a woman on the verge of coming unhinged, despite – or perhaps because of – the steadiness that surrounds her.
This makes for excellent tension. The first 27 seconds of opener "I Swear" chugs and churns along on a walking bass line, shuffling drums, and skritchity muted guitar chords, and you could be listening to Gene Vincent or Link Wray. Until, that is, Sallie Ford jumps in with her hopped-up vocals, and you start to wonder if Björk, or a Chinese singer, or maybe Dale Bozzio is at the microphone. Are the lyrics even in English? Careful listening is required to make out the words, "When I turn on the radio, it all sounds the same." Clearly, then, Ford and her band are out to change that. "Cage," with its dusky mood and call-and-response vocals would be an excellent candidate for putting a kink into an alternative radio station's stale play list. "This Crew," which nods to the swing revival of Squirrel Nut Zippers, is another particularly catchy ditty.
The sound of Sallie Ford & the Sound Outside is just as engaging even when it's not overtly catchy, too. The rhythms make you want to tap your toes, and Ford's vocals are unique and compelling throughout. Dirty Radio may recall earlier eras and artists, but the presentation of the material here is original and captivating. If you agree with Sallie Ford about the state of radio today, then this album is your remedy.
Recommended Tracks: "I Swear," "Cage," and "Against the Law"