Sallie Ford and the Sound Outside is a '50s rock and roll-influenced band from Portland, Oregon. The group formed in 2007 after Sallie Ford moved to Portland from her native Asheville, North Carolina. She then recruited Ford Tennis on drums, Tyler Tornfelt on upright bass and street musician Jeffrey Munger on guitar. The group's debut EP Not An Animal, self-released in 2010, drew influence from jazz, blues, rockabilly and rock and roll. The album’s success led to a record deal with Brooklyn-based Partisan Records, who released the band's debut LP Dirty Radio in 2011.
Portland's Sallie Ford & The Sound Outside are the antidote to what they feel is the poison of modern pop music. In “I Swear,” the opening track on their debut album Dirty Radio, Ford vehemently bemoans, “What have these people done to music? They just don't care anymore!” over a vintage rockabilly beat. Growing up in Asheville, North Carolina to a family of performers (her dad is even an acclaimed puppeteer), it's no surprise that Ford has a penchant for the quirkier things in life. By being exposed to all different types of music, she began to develop her own musical style. After packing up and moving across the country to Portland, where she was working as a waitress, she found like-minded music souls in Ford Tennis, Tyler Tornfelt, and Jeffrey Munger (drummer, upright bassist, and guitarist of The Sound Outside). Together, the quartet looks back to the roots of rock, blues, country, and jazz while adding their own modern twist. “Cage” starts off innocently enough, with a swinging, handclap-heavy beat and Ford asking, “tell me what am I supposed to do?” In true 1940s swing music fashion, The Sound Outside provides a tiny chorus of male backing vocals in response to Ford. However, the lyrics quickly take a centurial leap as Ford grittily scowls, “'cause that bitch she locked me up in a cage!” It's this contemporary rebellious streak, combined with their retro musical influences, that draws you in. While “Cage” shows off Ford's spitfire lyrics, she lets her guard come down in “Thirteen Years Old.” It's a slowed-down number about trying to deal with the death of a father at a young age: “I'm just waiting for these tears to pour/'cause why, I couldn't cry?” asks Ford. Light strings come in, just enough to enhance the sentiment without overpowering her vocals. Showcasing a more soulful approach, almost like a lost track of the late Amy Winehouse tackling rockabilly, is “Where Did You Go?” It's got a grooving beat that pairs perfectly with Ford's rubber band-like vocals—that is, she's able to stretch and expand her range while asking, “where did you go now that you're gone, gone, gone?” Just like some of the singers she's inspired by—Billie Holiday, Bessie Smith, and Tom Waits—Ford's quirky singing style might not be for everyone. For people who normally just listen to whatever's on the (Dirty) radio, Sallie Ford & The Sound Outside might take a few listens to get used to; but once you do give it a chance, it's a fun and refreshing escape from the norm.