Frazey Ford's only northern UK date on this tour took place in the sleepy market town of Nantwich, Cheshire, in a 400 year old Elizabethan building she described with a smile as 'funky'. Frazey joked about the ancient crooked staircase accessing the ballroom making you feel drunk, and the venue's spirit seemed in keeping with the rootsy music. Introducing the eighth Words and Music Festival, Nigel Stonier urged the audience to turn off their phones and refrain from chatter, asserting: 'we're all about the music'. Yet, with a support as raptly beautiful as Yorkshire's John Elliott, performing as The Little Unsaid, such a request was surely superfluous. Everyone present was utterly silent and attentive throughout, participation taking place on a deep emotional rather than visceral level. The subtlety, relaxed pace, and largely sad subject matter from both acts made this an experience which gradually drew you in, rather than assaulting the senses like fellow Canadian Metric last week.
Opening strongly with Firecracker from her first album, Obidiah, I missed the folksy banjos a little, but the religious connotations in her sometimes opaque lyrics were clear. Frazey's recent influences come from the Southern USA: as she explained last night, as anti-Vietnam War protesters, her parents fled America to a small Russian village in the Kootenays in British Columbia. Years later, Al Green's renowned Hi Rhythm Section from Memphis made contact with Frazey via email: intimidated, she explained that she took a few months to respond. Yet, this collaboration created one of my favourite albums of 2014, blending the folk and acoustic guitar sound of the Be Good Tanyas with blues and southern soul. Some may see parallels with the retro inspiration of Leon Bridges, though he brings more overt energy and drama live. Last night, it took time to appreciate the sensitive, restrained accompaniment, though once adjusted to the more leisurely pace, it's no less engaging.
Others have made comparisons with Cat Power's 2006 album The Greatest, when Chan Marshall also embraced a soul style. Yet, Frazey has an utterly distinctive, charismatic voice, with phrasing and a tone like no other. She stretches syllables, sometimes at the cost of clarity of diction, and with a limited range, but I could listen this soulful sound all day. Despite the almost consistently mournful mood and slow tempo, the ninety minute set felt intimate rather than sleepy. Frazey joked that an Otis Redding Cover was the only upbeat number in the set, and that she found political songs more problematic to write than Bob Dylan, but it was her connection to nature that resonates particularly strongly with me. A highlight was September Fields, one of the more up tempo songs, and a wonderfully nuanced rendition of the title song Indian Ocean, from her second solo album which was performed almost in full. She explained in an interview: 'There’s something about the ocean and tide – getting washed over, letting go, and how things change over time'. Performed with great restraint, this song about nature and journeying felt incredibly soothing.
Frazey's performances undoubtedly have a healing quality. She recounted how recording Weather Pattern with the Hi Rhythm Section helped to bury a 40 year old argument between the brothers about how to play a chord. That idiomatic voice becomes almost hypnotic, and eventually you're forced to succumb to its charm and lay aside your anxieties about life. Attention seeking stagecraft was totally absent; the the warm anecdotes between songs the main extra-musical means of engagement with the audience. Frazey brought a backing singer, drummer, bass, and guitarist to Nantwich, but in songs such as You're Not Free, I missed the horn and keys which add atmosphere to the album. Yet, it was a deeply satisfying experience, giving credence to the notion music can make you a healthier, kinder person, in the same way as time spent in the wilderness. I cannot agree enough when Frazey described nature as: 'a real solace for me, a source of inspiration and creativity, and grounding,' sentiments which equally apply to her music.
- You're Not Free
- Three Golden Trees
- September Fields
- Happy Song (Otis Redding Cover)
- You Got Religion
- One More Cup of Coffee (Bob Dylan Cover)
- Ootischenia (Be Good Tanyas cover)
- Natural Law
- Weather Pattern
- Blue Streak Mama
- Indian Ocean