Frazey Ford has all the attributes to be the cornerstone of contemporary roots music for the next decade and beyond. Not that the last decade and half hasn’t served her well as an integral part of the hugely acclaimed Canadian folk group The Be Good Tanyas and a burgeoning solo career. The release of the second Frazey Ford album last October saw the Vancouver based artist move up a notch or two with a sound so effectively blending the folk roots of her background and the soulful breakthrough of her calling. With INDIAN OCEAN now bedded in as a highly respected album, Frazey and her band have returned to Europe and incorporated three UK shows into the schedule. With this limited availability, it was quite a coup for the Cosmic American team to capture a date and schedule it away from their own East Midlands turf to the Birmingham setting of the Glee Club chain.
As well as playing the same venue last year for a different promoter, Frazey also visited the West Midlands twice in 2013 when The Be Good Tanyas broke their extended hiatus to temporarily reform. This loyal following ensured a decent Sunday night turnout with the gig taking place in the larger of the venue’s two rooms, useful as well for housing the seven piece band for the evening. This band consisted of a two piece horn section, bass and lead guitar, percussion and the usual accompaniment of Caroline Ballhorn on backing vocals. Frazey switches between acoustic guitar and pure vocals with the only missing link from a complete band being a keyboard input to really drive the soulful sound heralded by the trombone and trumpet.
Not only does Frazey have that A* knack of writing great songs with catchy tunes, she has the most amazing distinct vocals sent to tease and tantalise you before sending that soulful shiver down your spine. To head down to Memphis to record the latest album was a magnetic manoeuvre for Frazey who eulogised about playing with Al Green’s backing band and gleefully shared with the audience the middle naming of her son Otis, just as she ploughed into a version of Mr. Redding’s ‘Happy Song’. The anticipation for this gig was based on the sultry sound of the latest record and an ascending hour and half set hit a lofty plateau six songs in when the band launched into the album’s opening track ‘September Fields’ before refusing to budge until the inevitable standing ovation at the end.
Frazey appears to be perfectly at ease with this solo status and continues to build bridges between the stage and the audience with a banter style that perhaps is not her natural domain. One thing for sure is that the vocals are effortless and it was a wonderful listening experience to savour their glowing warmth and evocative appeal at such close quarters. In the latter stages of the show, the band found and remained on the sweet spot generating sounds similar to the players recently supporting two of North America’s premier roots artists in Lucinda Williams and Rosanne Cash. This mesmerising zone transfixed the discerning ear and enabled song after song to be etched on both mind and heart.
The bulk of the set list was drawn from Frazey’s two solo albums with the sole Tanya’s number served up being ‘Ooteshenia’ alongside the story of her draft defying hippy parents fleeing north to Canada. The audience was also treated to a brand new song as Frazey described the political origins surrounding ‘Separatin’’, an excellent song on first listen and sure to be a winner when the next round of recorded material appears. As if to still hold dear to her folk roots, she introduced the cover of Dylan’s ‘One More Cup of Coffee’ as a song to still maintain credibility in that community.
This is one of the few songs not to originate from Frazey’s pen and can be found on 2010’s OBADIAH. The same album illuminated the evening’s proceedings with ‘Bird of Paradise’ and a couple of encore numbers in ‘Firecracker’ and ‘Blue Streak Mama’, the first of these proving a popular selection and a slight deviation from the pre-determined set. Virtually all of INDIAN OCEAN was played during the band’s allotted time with the stimulating title track being a suitable choice to close the show. ‘Done’, recently promoted by a hugely popular video, was another well received song by the appreciative audience, although there was hardly a tune not rapturously applauded by a crowd who had earlier given a warm reception to another Vancouver artist in David Ward taking his place as the support act.
There is an alluring and hypnotic presence about Frazey Ford, the artist – the musician – the vocalist. Like so many roots performers, the true strength is in the substance and quick fix consumers are likely to bypass her talents. Yet for those enthusiasts buying into the concept of the complete package then Frazey offers a wealth of talent, aura and deep rooted soul. In fact let’s just call her one of the premier folk ‘n’ soul artists making contemporary roots music today and undoubtedly most of those present in Birmingham this evening will back this judgement.