When: Fri., March 29, 10 p.m. 2013
It’s four years since Thao Nguyen’s previous album with her longtime band, the Get Down Stay Down, and toward the end of that stretch the Bay Area singer stepped away from music—she says she wanted to “be a real live person, rather than just singing songs about them.” Nguyen got involved with several volunteer organizations, including the California Coalition for Women Prisoners, and on her first visit to Valley State Prison she met inmate Valerie Bolden, the inspiration for the title track of her strong new album, We the Common (Ribbon Music). The song isn’t literally about Bolden—a mother of two who’s serving life without the possibility of parole for fatally stabbing her husband in 1996—but it expresses empathy for people struggling to break free from all sorts of binds and connect with one another. Much of the album shares this empathy: in “Move,” for example, the narrator escapes a manipulative lover, racing giddily through a chorus of “Oh to be free / To be free.” We the Common is Nguyen’s richest and most varied release yet, but not even the most daring musical moments upstage her parched, soulful drawl.
Sallie Ford’s great second album is called Untamed Beast (Partisan), and with her devil-may-care brashness, she does her best to live up to its title—whether she’s bragging that she likes bad boys (and calling herself a bad boy too) or slinging raunchy food metaphors (“Some girls they like a bar of chocolate /Some girls they like a tasty omelette / But me I like a salty snack / That fits perfectly in my sack”). Backed with rockabilly swagger and garage-rock roughness by her nimble band, the Sound Outside, Ford comes across like a debauched Blossom Dearie with a slightly huskier voice—she’d almost sound innocent if it weren’t for her hilarious badass attitude and salacious delivery. —Peter Margasak