A little less swing and a lot more sass is what we get with Untamed Beast, the sophomore full-length album from local quartet Sallie Ford & the Sound Outside. Led by a firecracker front woman who can simultaneously sound like a Jazz Age ghost, a rockabilly rebel, and a thoroughly modern ballsy broad, Ford and company have become one of Portland’s most visible and upwardly mobile groups, winning Willamette Week’s Best New Band poll in 2010, tearing it up on The Late Show with David Letterman, and opening for the Avett Brothers last year. And while their 2011 debut, Dirty Radio, was a joyous jumping-off point, the follow-up drills deeper into the heart and mind of Sallie Ford—and rocks a lot harder.
Never one to shy away from the hot button, Ford opens the record with “They Told Me,” a brazen declaration of independence. Whether the subject is love or art, Ford is adamant that she reserves the right to follow her own heart, even if it’s breaking. Meanwhile, guitarist Jeff Munger bites down on a greasy blues riff that would sound right at home on a Cramps album.
It’s this feeling of ornery contrariness, the refusal to behave, that fuels Untamed Beast. Rather than serving up a zesty collection of tunes that showcase Ford as just another adorable “quirky” gal (thanks a lot, Zooey Deschanel!), the songs here sound like they were born out of a post-breakup manic episode. Ford is rowdy and ready to kick up her heels on “Party Kids,” where she reassures her friends with refrains of “Honey, I can handle it.” The same holds true on “Bad Boys,” where she snarls, “I can fuck / I can drink / And I don’t care what you think.”
But beneath Ford’s defiant celebrations of the pleasures of the flesh is the painful ache of a failed romance, which is, after all, the most popular song topic of all time. In “Shivers” she misses that special way her lover made her feel, and in “Paris” she’s bitter about being so damn sentimental.
What Ford has going for her, besides the courage of her convictions, is a versatile and sympathetic band. Munger, bassist Tyler Tornfelt, and drummer Ford Tennis seem uniquely qualified for the task of channeling Ford’s tempestuous mood swings, providing not only appropriate encouragement, but a willingness to follow and wallow in her anger and misery. Don’t let the subject matter throw you: Untamed Beast is all that—and more.
Sallie Ford & the Sound Outside will play record-release shows at Wonder Ballroom on February 22 and 23.