The Be Good Tanyas' Frazey Ford releases her debut solo record without the aid of her bandmates to carry the weight of a long player. What you get is a well-crafted mood record reminiscent of those soulful bar bands you would listen in on from the back of the bar while pining over your pint of beer.
Obadiah refers to the shortest book in the Bible consisting of 21 verses, named after a minor Hebrew prophet whose prophesies foretell the destruction of Edom, a town which took part in chasing the Israelites from Israel. There are some serious political implications to choosing a title with such weight, but, this being pop music, a name doesn’t always necessarily reflect the immediate social and political beliefs of the singer. Most often, an album title is a symbolic reflection of a variety of themes that spring forth from the collection of songs. Such is the case with Frazey Ford’s debut solo album Obadiah, an album that gains momentum with every subsequent listen.
On its first spin, Obadiah lingers on guitar chords and percussive measures in ways that recall a Sun Kil Moon album, only without the grace and Americana pop payoff. Instead, what we get is more of a mood album, listenable only when you want to feel like you're crying over your pint of ale at the bar in some rural Canadian town on the coast of British Columbia, occasionally breaking to move your hips to the infectious rhythm-and-blues country music being performed on stage. Obadiah plays very much like a live stage performance, aptly performed with some measure of certainty, but not confident enough to really let go. The instruments here serve the songs and melodies as opposed to the other way around. The songs never allow for more than a conventional by-the-numbers genre structure, but, in this case, it serves the ambience of the album -- the most interesting aspect of this oddly crafted record.
Frazey Ford is best known for the "sultry" vocal of the moderately successful all-girl Canadian trio the Be Good Tanyas, and it would be very easy for her to rely on her previous successes to determine the merits of this breakaway solo record. However, because Obadiah feels very much like an entity that's all its own, it’s best to stick to the content in this record, instead of holding it up to standards already set -- an impossible comparison for so many artists who attempt solo careers. Plus, Obadiah is one of the first records I have heard that has so much going on without much going on at all. Most of the record feels like it was produced within the time it takes to play the songs, and though there are definite listless moments, the album never roams too far for you to want to stop listening. What you get is an updated and cooler version of the best Cowboy Junkies record.
Frazey’s strengths definitely lie in the thick grain of her voice that is almost always indiscernible. I believed for a long while that the first line in the lead single "Firecracker" was: "I was a sailor / I was sailor / I was son of a gun of a gun," a line I later learned was, in fact, "I was a sailboat / I was a sailor / I was a sign of our goin' of our comin'." (I think my version is cooler, but whatever.) "Firecracker" opens the album and right away you are pulled into the religious connotations of the album's title, especially with Frazey singing: "Hallelujah / The sparks flew up to Heaven / They saw my smile / I was laughin' so hard." Is she referring to the prophesied destruction of Edom by Obadiah? Or is she singing about some childhood tragedy that ended in more tragedy? Probably both. Each song is crafted for multiple interpretations and is never explicitly intended to mean more than a vague feeling, specific only to each individual listener.
Frazey continues the languorous beauty with "Lay Down With You" and "Bird of Paradise", but never does she get any cooler than when she sings, "I was just busy / Talking to blue streak mama / I was talking to blue streak / I was just busy / Talking to blue streak mama / I was talking to blue streak," on "Blue Streak Mama". It's the smoothest, most soulful, and groove-inducing song on the entire record and elevates it beyond the typical Lilith Fair fare. Frazey is exuding complete cool with "Blue Streak Mama", never raising her voice above the necessary tone, but always with an assured delivery -- enough to put any disrespecting patron in his place. Unfortunately, there is never a similar moment on the record. As quickly as the assuredness of "Blue Streak Mama" comes, it goes, guiding the rest of the album into similar territory that the previous songs had already established. It’s not bad by any means, but it does leave you feeling a little disappointed that the rest of the record was not slowly rocking to a similar blues-infused beat.
As a debut solo record Obadiah is quite impressive, but only if you’re in the mood the album wants you to be in. To be honest, I was not expecting much -- given the sleep-inducing fare that is the Be Good Tanyas, I was expecting to struggle through this record. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised to discover a well-crafted mood record, perfect for the malaise of a sluggish late evening.