Sallie Ford isn’t content with the state of modern music. If this isn’t clear from the hints of Etta James and others greats who came before her, Ford comes right out and says so in the opening track of Dirty Radio. “When I turn on the radio, it all sounds the same,” she laments in the first line of “I Swear.” “What have these people done to music? I just don’t care anymore.”
Ford sounds almost exasperated with the situation as she huffs and puffs her way through the song, and her solution to this quandary seems to be to take a look through her mom’s record collection. But rather than simply imitating her diverse influences, Sallie Ford & The Sound Outside decided to take a little bit of Bessie Smith and mix it with a dash of Tom Waits. The result is a delicious goulash of rockabilly and blues with just enough punk attitude to separate Ford’s sound from all the other homage-rock bands out there.
There is certainly a loveable quirkiness to Sallie Ford, particularly in her bouncy voice. All of the songs on the record are entertaining, and most of them are a whole lot of fun. But Ford has a serious side as well. On the surface, Dirty Radio may sound like a collection of 1950s-style bubble-gum pop tunes, but upon closer examination, a depth of emotion and thought reveals its presence through this young Portland songwriter.
In “Thirteen Years Old,” Ford tells the story of a newly-teenaged girl whose father passes away. “I’m only thirteen years old, and already life’s cold,” she says. There comes a point in life when you realize that the world can be a pretty dark place at times, and it’s never an easy realization to deal with. “Will this go on for years and years?” she asks, not knowing that it won’t. Life is full of ups and downs, peaks and valleys, strikes and gutters. But the idea of this young girl truly not knowing if her world will ever feel right again is enough to rip the heart out of even the toughest chest.
Ford’s band, The Sound Outside, serve as the perfect backbone to her music. They provide a powerful backdrop to the singer’s raw emotion and talent, complimenting her storytelling and performance. They provide the punch to accent her energy on the upbeat tracks, and lay low when her voice needs to tell the tale on its own. The Sound Outside really gets to shine on “Cage,” echoing Ford with perfectly placed back-up vocals.
Taken simply as an album, Dirty Radio is great. It’s fun and thoughtful. It’s familiar while still feeling fresh, and each song feels better than the last. As a debut album, it’s even better. It shows promise, and when it’s over, the listener is eager to cash in on said promise. Luckily, after Dirty Radio has come to a close, it doesn’t feel as though Sallie Ford is one bit through with all she’s had to say. There is a wealth of potential in this songwriter, and it seems as though she’s just getting started.