The Upshot: With a big, bold, Eightiesish vibe and insightful, incisive lyrics, the artist crafts a winner that’s solid from start to finish.
BY FRED MILLS
Southern chanteuse Sonia Tetlow is remembered in some quarters from her woodshedding days as bassist for Cowboy Mouth, banjo picker for Roxie Watson, and guitar/mandolin player for Paul Sanchez. But she’s also proven her mettle on her own, releasing albums as the Sonia Tetlow Band in 2000 and 2002 and three as a solo artist proper in 2006, 2012, and 2014. With Now she convincingly stakes her claim as a major songwriter and performer who’s destined for acclaim well beyond her regional stronghold of dedicated fans. (I count myself among those fans, having written about her early on.)
It’s a unique approach she takes here, deliberately conjuring sonic images from the ‘80s via prominent synth lines, propulsive rhythms, and arena-worthy arrangements. Trendy indie rock or by-the-numbers Americana, this is not, and it’s utterly inspiring to hear someone painting well outside the lines. From the classic rock dynamics that fuel the irresistible title track and the sinewy Latin lilt of “Slow Burning,” to the luminous anthemism of ballad “Tripline” (which features guest vocalist Amy Ray) and the defiant, swaggering “Don’t Hold Me To It” (in which the aforementioned synth, courtesy Matt Henderson, engages in a duel of competing solos with guitarist Jimmy “Bones” McAlpin), Now is a sexy, urgent album from start to finish.
Now is also a manifesto worth engaging: In “Hard Fought Year,” which also boasts the presence of the aforementioned Indigo Girl, the songwriter reflects—in her rich, warm, part-purr/part-warble—upon all that has gone down in the annum that’s about to close. In truth, even considering the possibility that the song may have been written some time ago, it’s impossible not to take note of the biting lyrics’ contemporary relevance:
“It’s been a hard fought year just getting by
Trying to decide where to go from here
And that old constant change, it sure takes its toll
On battle-weary souls that got lost along the way…
So come on now
Lay down your arms
Your words as weapons (down)
Your hate-filled blaming (now)
Open your eyes
Your hearts and minds
Cuz this great divide
Is just illusion.”
Amen. We need more artists like Sonia Tetlow who’ll call things like they see ‘em. Believe.
DOWNLOAD: “Now,” “Hard Fought Year,” “Don’t Hold Me To It”