Sound Track web extra: “Untamed Beast”

Portland-based and Asheville-born Sallie Ford and her band The Sound Outside plays The Grey Eagle on Tuesday, March 19. The show is headlined by Thao and the Get Down Stay Down. 9 p.m., $12 advance / $15 day of show.

Sallie Ford & the Sound Outside release their third album, Untamed Beast, on Tuesday, Feb. 18. Here’s a preview (with photos by Melani Brown):

“Never have I had a rational mind,” sings Sallie Ford at the beginning of “They Told Me,” which is also the beginning of Sallie Ford & the Sound Outside’s new LP, Untamed Beast (which drops Tuesday, Feb. 19). “Jealousy is an untamed beast and that untamed beast lives inside of me,” she sings.

By sings, I mean sneers, snarls and spits. Ford has this magnetic quality — she and her voice are both cute. Quirky. Curly haired and cat-eye glasses-wearing. But also a little scary. You know that one bad girl in high school? The pretty one with too much eye liner, the one who rode in cars with boys, the one who skipped class and smoked behind the bleachers? The one who told you you do something that you knew you shouldn’t but when she said it, it seemed like such a good idea?

I think Ford is that girl (albeit in a vintage and borderline matronly dress). I listen to Beast, track after track, and for every line that my well-behaved good-girl psyche parses and rejects (“I’m a addicted, I’m addicted, How will I get over you?), my would-be bad-girl grins. Plus, this is an album built on party sounds, on unleashed horns, on peels of dive-bar choruses, on big block engines and rivers of booze.

“Party Kids” is, perhaps an anthem. Its bar brawl video (watch it here) makes it hard to separate the pretty-damn-literal lyric from the small-screen imagery. Wearing a demure, multi-strand bead choker, Ford breaks bottles over the heads of bikers. Her band members guzzle straight vodka. Blood spews. But that song’s got nothing on the surf-rock “Bad Boys” in which Ford bellows, “I can fuck, I can drink, and I don’t care what you think. You can say I’m just a girl, but I’ve had a lady or two, I bet she’d prefer me to you.”

You may think of her as just a little girl, but she’s here to Prove. You. Wrong.

The guitar struts, the drums crash. There’s muscle here. There’s grit. There’s so much attitude that it’s hard to know whether to pump a fist or run while you still can.

This is what I think: For three albums now, Ford’s beef has not been with some rival gang, or the men who might underestimate her, or the industry that acts like it’s the last bastion of the boys-only club. I think she’s going up against the plasticization and dumbing down of mainstream music. I think that’s what Ford hates and rails against with every breath in her small frame and huge voice. I think she despises fake and bland and mechanized. The pop stars who sing dumb songs about being up in the club and whatever, whatever.

And I think that, instead of complaining about the staid crap on the radio, Ford decided to tear down the regime with the sheer power of her lungs and her band and her whip-smart songwriting.

Not that Beast is all bawdy, tawdry nose-thumbing fare.

“Shivers” is an intense, aching, primal scream of longing. It comes off the bravado and bombast of “Bad Boys” with such ferocity. The track warrants comparison to Etta James and Janis Joplin, but also to Alabama Shakes and the way that all of these acts are woman vocalists who convey heart-on-sleeve emotionalism without concern for feminine role-play or guile. This is just raw, and bold. And retro but timeless.

There are points when the album really borrows from rockabilly and from ’60s garage rock, but I suspect Ford is less influenced by her predecessors and more challenging them to a duel. Okay, not a duel. A brawl. A drag race, a fist fight. The punch and snarl of “Devil” recalls The Dead Weather — ever see that video for “Treat Me Like Your Mother” where Jack White and Alison Mossheart are stalking across dusty ground behind some housing development, continually blasting each other with automatic rifles? Well, Ford is scarier.

In fact, I think I’d like to see her sing a duet (and by duet, I might mean cage fight) with White. I think in weirdness, dirtiness, no-hold-barred rocker-ness, they are well matched. And, as much as we need rockers who rock but also curse and kick and howl — acting out the way our personal ids are cursing and kicking and howling on the stages of our minds, like a hundred times a day — we need girl rockers to do that. Maybe even more.

You know how Grace Potter has that “Paris Oh La La” song? And it’s a little bit naughty? I mean, someone has her down on the floor and up on a swing, for god’s sake. And it catapulted her from festival cutie to radio pop diva, right? But Ford’s “Paris” song doesn’t bother to meet cute or wink suggestively or flash a little bit of aerobicized thigh. “Paris” is short for parasite, the guitar is almost angry, the drum is a thick thud of bodies, of bottles, of fists on cheekbone, leaving a purple bruise. Even when she sings soft (and soft is just less hard), Ford has the momentum to break things.

There are slower songs, sweeter songs, lighter songs on Beast. But the album’s title holds up. There’s a restlessness and a relentlessness (in a good way) to it. It contains, up to the final soulful strains of “Roll Around” (a calling out of fakeness in the face of genuine affection), the sort of kinetic energy that comes from two kids holding hands and spinning in a circle, until something snaps in their little kid minds and instead of spinning they’re all of a sudden each trying to whip the other off of the planet. You know? Minds let go like that, in the face of speed and power.

Ford and her band find that edge of snapping and ride it, work it, taunt it, flaunt it. They are the kids, the ones pushing the swing too high, crashing down on the teeter totter, pushing past scraped knees and popping wheelies for the thrill and rush. But also because they can. They know they can, and they’re about to make the world know, too.

About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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