Best known for her outstanding work on vocals in the Canadian folkie group Be Good Tanyas, Frazey Ford takes a giant leap forward with her sophomore solo release, Indian Ocean. It has absolutely nothing to do with folk music, though, and everything to do with her obsession with Al Green’s classic album Love and Happiness. She was invited to work with Green’s rhythm section after a documentary filmmaker named Robert Gordon heard a track from Obidiah, her 2010 recording. He recognized her soulfulness and facilitated an intro to the legendary guys known as the Hi Rhythmn Section ( on the Hi Records label) who backed Al Green. They happen to be the best in the business, and Frazey’s new work benefits enormously from the undeniably deep grooves of their ensemble playing. Charles Hodges (organ), Leroy Hodges (bass) and Teenie Hodges (guitar), are the foundation for this superb record.
Frazey herself has one sweet, low register smoky voice, both languorous and intense. She’s a perfect match for the Memphis/Stax soul sound that contributed so much to Al Green’s success. It’s a bit of a wonder, considering that Frazey carved her reputation on country and folk music based north of the border. With her French-Canadian heritage one would never suspect she could complement so well the slow sax-drenched, thickly sweet bass/drum interplay and deliberate sensuousness the Memphis sound offers. Backup singers Caroline Ballhorn and Debra Jean Creelman effectively add atmosphere while sweetening the mix in carefully chosen, understated fashion.
The record is a slow burner, addictive as all get out, particularly for fans of Al Green who can never quite enough of his ’70s masterpieces. Frazey is not a copyist, though. She has her own approach and her lyric writing is as thoughtful and and as hook-laden as Green’s classics. We’re talking Green’s vintage years, however; much as I loved his music I found his later mid-’90s work such as Your Heart’s In Good Hands to be over-produced. Indian Ocean is a subtle work, one that reaches deep into the heart of the listener.
Key tracks: the bright opener “September Fields”, the second sizzling track “Runnin'” (see vid below), the profanity-driven “Done” with its ferocious indictment of a former lover, and “U Got Religion”, a gospel track. However, there’s not a bad tune on the album. It’s a compelling listen from start to finish, and a record that is bound to find its way near the top of many Best of 2014 lists.