MMS First Listen - 'Slap Back' by Sallie Ford

Photo courtesy of Jason Quigley
Sallie Ford, the Asheville by way of Portland singer-songwriter, is back with a new band, a new album, and an electrifying new sound. After parting ways with longtime band The Sound Outside, Sallie realized her longtime ambition of putting together an all-girl band, consisting of Anita Lee Elliot on bass, Amanda Spring on drums, and Cristina Cano on keyboards. The result is Slap Back, due October 14th on Vanguard Records.

The album artwork, with Sallie's face (and her trademark spectacles) superimposed over a gaily colored, día de los muertos-style butterfly, is indicative of the metamorphosis which Sallie underwent in launching this next phase of her career and life. Her voice has never sounded so powerful or primal. Gone are many of the rockabilly pretensions of The Sound Outside. This is a straighforward rock-and-roll record, with hints of surf, alt-country, punk, and even a dash of EDM, all expertly incorporated into the mix by producer and über-Portlander Chris Funk (the Decemberists). She is unafraid to do and say what she wants, full steam ahead and damn the consequences!

The first single, 'Coulda Been', a reflection on bad timing and the one that got away, is a syncopated booty-shaker with a deliciously tight bass line that wouldn't feel out of place on Veruca Salt's American Thighs. The goth-y 'Luck to Miss' channels equal parts ? & the Mysterians '96 Tears' and Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds' 'Do You Love Me?' in its lament on the less glamorous side of life on the road. Sallie lets fly on the aptly named 'Let Go', a heavily synthesized number about taking a chance, at least for tonight, if not forever. The only phrase I can conjure to describe this track is "Sonic Viagra". The swoopy 'An Ending', which borrows from the Built to Spill playbook, chronicles the messy and ultimately unsuccessful transition from relationship to friendship.

I didn't love every cut on this album. 'Dive In' jumps out the radio at you, overly caffeinated like something Dave Grohl and Josh Homme cooked up with new and unsanctioned uses for espresso beans. Despite its title, I was also left a little cold by 'Give Me Your Lovin'', which sounds like the hangover left in the wake of prior track 'Dive In'. The undercooked production on this track overshadows some of the strongest harmonies on the record, as well as some unapologetically come-hither lyrics.

Despite a couple of whiffs, this is an outstanding debut from Ms. Ford & Co. The sound is inarguably present and in-your-face, the riffs strong, and the harmonies soaring. Mark your calendars with the aforementioned October 14 - when Slap Back is released - and November 16 - when DC will welcome Sallie to the Rock & Roll Hotel with openers And the Kids and Crooked Fingers.