When I think of Portland, Oregon’s Sallie Ford & the Sound Outside, my brain immediately goes to a bizarre, obscure reference: Edie Brickell & New Bohemians. It’s only in that both are male-dominated bands fronted by quirky ladies. While Brickell and company burned out after one hit and had their frontwoman marry Paul Simon, Ford and company are masters of expressing the various hues of the down-on-their-luck, from emotional stuntedness to finally finding a place in this world.
As her name is the only one featured, Ford is the star of the show, a position she earns with her powerful and versatile voice. Take, for instance, the shift between opening track “I Swear” and “Danger”; the former billows with a kind of jazzy-swing energy and bounce, while the latter is only slightly less bubbly and more bluesy. The differences may be subtle, but they’re profound. The scope of her golden pipes continues to be showcased on cuts like “Write Me a Letter”, with a kind of folk snark to her societal condemnations, and “Where Did You Go”, which has arguably the most annoying yet emotionally wrenching chorus thanks to Ford’s wails.
But while she’s the Gwen Stefani to their No Doubt, the Sound Outside are just as skilled at creating great emotional landscapes. Whether it’s the hollowed out, yet frighteningly somber drive of “Poison Milk”, the massively more terrifying “Against the Law”, or the simple end-of-your-rope optimism of “Thirteen Years Old”, the Sound Outside are experts at taking bits and pieces of rock, folk, blues, jazz, and more and using them to their most efficient, most appealing, and most impactful.
In the aforementioned “Write Me a Letter”, the band themselves reference Jets to Brazil and Sunny Day Real Estate. Name-dropping like that might deter some, but the band are just giving listeners some reference points about where they stand in the great canon of rock. And it’s nowhere near those New Bohemians.