Vancouver based singer-songwriter Frazey Ford kept the crowd warm on a gloomy, rainy December evening at the Vogue Theatre on Thursday with her clear yet rich-as-caramel voice and folksy soul musical stylings. A founding member of the folk trio The Be Good Tanyas, Ford released her first solo album Obadiah in 2010, followed by Indian Ocean in 2014. Ford appeared right at home playing to a near sold out all-ages audience including friends and family at the Vogue, which she described as “the perfect venue.” Indeed, the crowd took advantage of the open dance floor, swaying to the music and calling out shouts of admiration to Ford, who replied with lighthearted banter. She seemed pleased with the energy in the room, at one point remarking, “You rowdies! I like it, usually it’s just sitting….”
The opener, R&B/pop artist Omar Khan, set the mood for the evening with his smooth, assured voice and mellow vibes. His charm shone through during his set, and he seemed genuinely thrilled to be opening for Ford.
Ford came onstage with her band (seven musicians on lead guitar, bass, organ, drums, saxophone, trumpet, and backing vocals). She wore a sparkly silver shirt, white skinny jeans, and light pink heels, and carried a glass of red wine in one hand. Yet despite the sparkly top, Ford and the band came across as unpretentious and approachable, just as her music is grounded and warm. In fact, she noted that her son picked out her outfit, and that because she was at the Vogue it had to be “something special.”
From the clean, bright opening horns on “You’re Not Free,” the talent of her band was apparent. They also appeared to be having a good time together, playing cohesively and congenially. While Ford has mostly been associated with folk music, her distinctive voice has always had more than a tinge of soul to it, and the album Indian Ocean finally highlights this. After a chance call from documentary filmmaker Robert Gordon, who was working on a film about Memphis soul and heard Ford’s song on the radio, Ford found herself recording the album at Royal Studios in Memphis, with the Hi Rhythm Section – musicians who played with the gifted soul singer Al Green.
The Memphis soul influence was apparent and welcome on her newer songs, although Ford still anchors them in country/ folk territory with her acoustic guitar. On Thursday standouts from Indian Ocean included the elegant, rich “September Fields” and the steady groove of “You Got Religion.” “Done” was a fantastic, bitingly joyful break-up song (or, in Ford’s words, “bitch anthem”), and saw the crowd singing along. “Three Golden Trees” was softer, and includes characteristically simple yet evocative lyrics: “You carried me up and over the water/ In a white dress covered in rust/ And I folded into your shoulder/ All through the flood…/ Welcome to the end of our trust/ If you must, if you must.” Ford lies back into her words while she sings, bringing a richness and musicality to her tone, but often at the expense of diction. For this reason lyrics are not always decipherable (which can prove frustrating or endearing, depending on your take) although when they are Ford proves herself to be a more than competent lyricist.
Ford put away her guitar for the uniquely beautiful “Bird of Paradise” and strong, bluesy “Blue Streak Mama” from Obadiah. The forceful, personal “Firecracker” from the same album was a high point live. Ford also played a number of covers, of particular note Funkadelic’s “Can You Get to That” (which she introduced by saying “I used to play in a funk band in Nelson”) and The Be Good Tanya’s “Ootischenia” which showcased her lyrical storytelling abilities.
Over the course of the evening Ford mentioned multiple times, with somewhat shy gratitude, how fun it was to be playing at the Vogue. Judging from the stomping call for an encore to the standing ovation that swept through most everyone in the top seats her listeners were right there with her. “Indian Ocean” was a fitting choice for the last song of the night, with Ford’s voice floating atop and dipping within its rolling, atmospheric composition. By the end of the evening any of Ford’s beginning nerves about playing to a hometown crowd seemed to have disappeared, and her audience was only too willing to be carried away with the rainy day tides.
Setlist (partial): You’re Not Free Runnin’ Bird of Paradise If You’re Gonna Go September Fields You Got Religion Blue Streak Mama Can You Get to That (Funkadelic cover) Done Three Golden Trees Separate Ootischenia (The Be Good Tanyas cover) Natural Law Weather Pattern I Like You Better
Encore: When We Get By (D’Angelo cover) Firecracker The Happy Song (Otis Redding cover) Indian Ocean