Through its Lake Street Dive releases, Signature Sounds has
shown its fondness for vintage jazz, and for
rhythm and blues. In the case of LSD, the label’s been supporting a band
with an uncommonly fresh synthesis of light jazz, R&B, rock, and pop with
adept songwriting. Miss Tess’ work
is of a more purist, retro bent; exemplified by her vintage archtop guitar
contributions. Although Sweet Talk is
her first album with Signature, she’s been around for awhile, having released
five previous albums.
Miss Tess plays with a crack combo, the Talkbacks (Will
Graefe/guitar, Larry Cook/upright bass, Matt Meyer/drums). Sweet Talk also features Danny Weller/upright bass, Raphael
McGregor/ lap steel, Thomas Bryan Eaton/pedal steel, and Sam Kassirer/piano.
Fans of Les Paul and of Jeff Beck’s retro guitar work are
likely to be delighted by the album’s well-studied plethora of classic tones.
And Miss Tess has a pleasant, clear soprano. The ensemble sparkles on
“Everybody’s Darling,” a crisp, pop country track that would nestle comfortably
next to anything by Patsy Cline. The shuffling beat of “New Orleans” helps keep the Dixieland form
alive. But a cover of the sumptuous
“I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire” doesn’t just lack soul when played next
to the Ink Spots’ version. It’s endemic of the generally textbook ambiance of Sweet Talk. Miss Tess and her band’s
rich, round tones probably provide a fine accompaniment to cocktails in a
nightclub setting. The songwriting, however, is too derivative of vintage light
country, light jazz, and light rock standards to make a lasting impression.
Common threads are provided by the band’s spirited playing, and Miss Tess’s
lone vocals. But her voice grows tiresome over the course of 11 songs; lacking the
richness and nuances of contemporary jazz-spiced chanteuses such as Romy Kaye,
Nena Anderson, and LSD’s Rachael Price.
Happily, this assessment isn’t all about clouds – there’s
hope, which I certainly hope will be received well. ‘50s country stylings seems
more suited to MT’s voice. She sounds suddenly overqualified on “Save Me St.
Peter,” which features some lovely vocal textures that meld especially well
with the song’s steel guitar wails.
DOWNLOAD: “Everybody’s Darling,” “Save Me St. Peter” -MARY