Please don’t let Sallie Ford’s demure appearance and thick-rimmed specs fool you. Though she looks like she belongs either behind the desk of a library or in your grandmother’s canasta game, the Portland-based frontwoman of The Sound Outside is as rough and rollicking as they come and could probably drink you under the table if you’re not careful.
This disclaimer could be applied to her 2011 debut album, Dirty Radio, but the print shouldn’t be as fine for her latest effort Untamed Beast, which, as its title indicates, sees Ford’s snarling confidence reaching new heights as she establishes herself as one of music’s most badass frontwomen. For example, here’s a list of some the things she not-so-gently reminds listeners she is capable of on “Bad Boys”: cuss, scream, sweat, yell, raise hell, fuck and drink. She doesn’t care what you think, and she’s here to prove you wrong…yes, you, the one who mistook her for a lost librarian. How is it possible to be so intimidated by and attracted to something at the same time? I would happily let Sallie Ford rip my heart out and do whatever she wants with it.
The ratcheted-up intensity and aggression is the most apparent difference between Dirty Radio and Untamed Beast. Her voice’s endearingly quirky lilt has been scaled back slightly and her tone is, for the most part, more uncompromising. But this isn’t to say Sallie Ford has lost her playful charm or occasionally tender side. One of the strengths of Dirty Radio was the amount of ground it covered stylistically from track to track, and the same can be said of Untamed Beast. For every rocker like “They Told Me,” “Party Kids” and “Devil” there are tracks like the whimsical, acoustic love song “Paris” and the cleverly playful “Do Me Right,” in which Ford uses down-home food analogies to express just what she wants from the song’s object. She also points out her awareness of all the genre comparisons and retro tags that have been heaped on her since Dirty Radio. In “Rockability,” a fierce kind of anti-tribute to her rockabilly influences that features unhinged guitar licks characteristic of the genre, she sings “Can’t wait to see the day when all the genres melt away / So sick of being in the box, won’t you unlock me.”
What’s most interesting about Untamed Beast, though, is that for all Ford’s barking confidence, the album’s lyrics showcase a certain lovelorn vulnerability, even some of those she sings with aggression. On “Addicted” Ford immediately follows the callous line “Put you out like a cigarette butt” by painfully wondering “How will I ever get over you?” The aforementioned “Paris” details how she’s lost in the spell of a parasitic lover, and on the album’s final track, the softhearted “Roll Around,” she lets down her defenses completely and sings about how all she wants to do is “roll around in bed with you.” It’s a touching parting statement that makes it clear that despite her bristly front, Sallie Ford is a victim of love just like the rest of us.