It comes as no surprise that Frazey Ford would enlist Al Green’s collaborators, Hi Rhythm Section, as her band to record Indian Ocean – her biggest influences being Ann Peebles, Roberta Flack and Donny Hatahaway. It must have broken her heart when guitarist Teenie Hodges died during the album’s recording session as this was surely the pinnacle of her musical life so far – a dream come true. Still, along with his most talented band mates, he left behind enough of his trademark playing and feel to make this album a real joy. But that’s the magic of soul – joy from despair and although the lyrics are sometimes hard to decipher (Frazey Ford seems unconcerned about diction) she conveys the message of sadness and beauty with aplomb.
The memorable September Fields opens the album and armed with a beautiful warbling, disarming soul-tone, and an irresistible melody, her unique brand of country-soul simultaneously warms you and makes you twitch, unable to control the tapping of your foot. Her voice seals the magic (justifying the hiring of such a legendary band of musicians).
She does what John Martyn did, injects soul into folk, feel into straight lines and sways into your consciousness like a flower bending through a fence in the wind, penetrating the border, breaking the lines. It’s this originality, this pairing of styles that sets her apart and makes her stand out.
Horns, organ and treacle thick drums ease themselves through the landscape of the songs like a slow train to heaven. Runnin’ and You’re Not Free have you swinging in a Memphis hammock hypnotised by the rhythm and the droning whirr of the cicadas in the back yard.
The twilight buzz of Three Golden Trees has MsFord charming the lights off the fireflies and in this song you start to recognize her voice as an instrument, a symbiosis adding flavour to this organic stew as the spices blend. This lazy genius continues on You Got Religion with short horn stabs, flourishes, sparse guitar picking and background organ.
The album continues heavy on mood and indecipherable lyrical mystery with Season After Season, Natural Law and Weather Pattern and if there is a flaw it might just be that to grasp the meaning, to feel real contact with this album and this artist, some inkling of what she’ s singing would be a big help. As the CD was sold out in the shop, I don’t know at time of writing if lyrics are included in the album. To others the allure of the mood, the sensuality of the feels and the melancholic beauty in Frazey Ford’s voice would be enough to have you drifting on the Indian Ocean with her as she concludes the album with the title track.