After starting out with the retro folk band the Be Good Tanyas, for her third solo album since 2010, Vancouver-based artist Frazey Ford has all but completely eliminated the Americana influences that permeated her previous two productions. Rather, on ‘U Kin Be The Sun’ she concentrates on producing what sounds, on the face of it, like a straightforward, solid slab of mid-paced, well-polished Southern soul, leaning towards 1970s-tinged funk and gospel and with Ford’s intense yet indolent voice over-arching proceedings with astonishingly potent force.
So far, so very acceptable. But despite the album’s promising foundations and back-up to Ford’s lead – the drumming, for example, is nailed-on sharp, the bass playing fluid and imaginative – overall ‘U Kin Be The Sun’ feels strangely underwhelming.
Take Ford’s singing, for example. It certainly has remained as rich and powerful as it did on the wonderful ‘Done’ in her previous album, ‘Indian Ocean’, a track that ripped through the anger and disappointment of a break-up with ferocious clarity. But on ‘U Kin Be The Sun’ Ford’s more relentless slurring of the lyrics to the point of near-total incomprehensibility means the reasoning or emotions behind such striking track titles as ‘The Kids Are Having None Of It‘ or ‘Motherfucker’ get seriously drained of potential interest. If this were a foreign language album you’d accept that having to use your intuition with the lyrics, like it or not, formed part of the entrance fee. Here, given the lack of comprehensibility and subsequent slight sense of exclusion, arguably isn’t as necessary, it’s more frustrating.
That said, Ford’s voice booms and swoops with impressive power and the first three songs in particular, ‘Azad’, Everywhere’ and ‘Golden’ – are captivating and graceful. But deeper into the album, as what comparatively few backing instruments there are continue to thunder smoothly across the cavernous spaces created by the very loosely structured song formats, there’s a rising sense of predictability and lack of variety. In particular, the absence of a horn section and their wonderfully timed interplays with Ford’s voice that featured so strongly on Indian Ocean contribute to this sensation of a dearth of diversity.
As an EP, ‘U Kin Be The Sun’ might have been more effective. Regrettably, this time round, after five or six tracks the penny begins to drop that – rather as if you were in the sunlit sea in which Ford is bathing on the album cover – no matter where you go on ‘U Kin Be The Sun’, this time round the water’s never likely going to be much more than acceptably lukewarm.