Music

The Big Beat

The New Old Sounds of Sallie Ford and the Sound Outside

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WHEN 1950S DISC JOCKEY Alan Freed first uttered the words "rock and roll" over Ohio's airwaves, he began to caulk the gaps in an era of segregation and oppression, both musically and otherwise. Suddenly, there was an all-inclusive genre that merged rockabilly with rhythm and blues, jazz with folk, the blacks with the whites—beckoning those post-war audiences, imprisoned by their crisply starched linens and lacquered 'dos, to come together and let loose.

But aside from Wanda Jackson, Frankie Lymon (who may have actually been a 13-year-old boy), and a few other mentionables, strong women were sparse in the dawning of rock and roll. Could soothsayer Freed have predicted the female forces to come; could he have guessed that sometime in the mid-aughts, one bespectacled young woman from Asheville, North Carolina, would take rock and roll into her own hands and set it aflame under Oregon's slate-gray skies?

When Sallie Ford and the Sound Outside—consisting of lead guitarist Jeff Munger, drummer Ford Tennis, and bassist Tyler Tornfelt—began performing around Portland in 2008, it was clear they were not to be ignored. Music critics and fans alike fussed over their preserved vintage sound; they pined for their revved-up performances, capable of rousing even the most stone-faced showgoer to reckless hip swiveling. But above the swarming din of new band buzz one thing has remained truer than the gospel: The girl's got pipes.

And with her band running a tight ship behind her, Ford can open up and wail with a heavy timbre that frequently measures her against Billie Holiday, with phrasings comparable to Tom Waits (see: "Against the Law"), and even, at times, a Blonde on Blonde-era Bob Dylan. But you know this already. You've probably been downwind of at least one of Ford's great vocal gusts. So, what's next?

Well, now that the band's excellent debut full-length Dirty Radio, recorded by Adam Selzer and Mike Coykendall, is finally out and ready for public consumption (courtesy of Partisan Records), "I'm ready for people to really listen to and know the slow songs," says Ford.

"When people don't know us as well, they just want to hear the high-energy tracks," she continues, and with some concern. It's true that much of the band's sound is hinged upon those swinging numbers, like the raucous first single, "I Swear"—born shortly before beginning sessions at Type Foundry—or the classic pop-rock beat pulsed behind "Danger," which also appeared on 2009's Not an Animal EP. However, one will find great merit to more tempered songs like "Miles"—one of the first songs Ford ever wrote—and especially "Nightmares," a darkened doo-wop concession that gradually builds, with lyrics delivered with candor characteristic of Ford's honest demeanor.

In order to make Ford's wish possible, there is a lot of seatbelt buckling in the band's future; they've got an album to support. In fact, at the time this is being written, they're on their way to play their first shows in Alaska. However, Ford's already got new work in mind. "I feel like I have a lot more to say, and I'm excited about writing more songs," she says. "For a while, I felt like I'd written all of these songs that are basically about sex, and I'm bored of writing about that, and have more topics to cover now."

"Well, I'll probably still write songs about sex," Ford says, with a laugh.

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