From the first moment she stepped up to a microphone, it's been obvious that Sallie Ford has a great voice and no fear of putting it to use, but as good and as adventurous as her two albums with the Sound Outside were, the retro affectations that defined much of her work also seemed to be holding her back in some way. That all changes with 2014's Slap Back, her first album after breaking with the Sound Outside and forming a new band. While Ford still sounds proudly idiosyncratic on Slap Back, her adventurous phrasing feels less showy and more organic here, and while the music still has its fair share of quirks, she's tossed away the vintage blues and jazz accents in favor of a more contemporary sort of indie rock, emphasis on rock, though "Hey Girl" suggests she's been digging some classic girl group sides, the buzzy keyboard line on "Lucky to Miss" clearly keys into contemporary dance pop and hip-hop, and "Let Go" sounds just a bit like EDM played by a live band. Ford's new combo -- Cristina Cano on keyboards, Anita Lee Elliot on bass, and Amanda Spring on drums -- hits a lot harder than the Sound Outside, and Ford's raw, echoey guitar sound nods to her earlier work, but Slap Back feels rougher, more spontaneous, and more sincere at the same time. The vibe of Slap Back is one of kids in the garage, knocking out tunes without worrying much about generic conventions or the necessity of putting on a show, and Ford seems to thrive on it; there are fewer vocal flights of fancy and more moments where she slips into the melody and is happy to look around, but she's as passionate and powerful as ever. And while Ford has never been shy about baring her soul on-stage or in the studio, these songs are less guarded or theatrical than before, and they work all the better for it. Add in Chris Funk's simple, empathetic production, and Slap Back sounds like a fresh and satisfying new beginning for Sallie Ford, where she gives herself a sonic makeover and gains more than she loses.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming