A prime example is one sweet EP/mini-LP from Signature Sounds Records by one Miss Tess & The Talkbacks titled The Love I Have For You. I sat on this beauty for months, moving it down the food chain for God knows how long. I kept reading glowing reviews and swore I would get to it soon, but soon seemed to not come soon enough, I guess. I finally pulled it from the bottom of a pile and put it on and, goddamn! This puppy is every bit as good as those reviews claimed.
What makes it so? I would say that it is the ease with which the band cruises down the roots highway. Yep, it's roots. And for those who don't know what "roots" is, let me give you my definition. To me, it is music riding on the back of the past, a beast full of influences tried and true over the years. Sometimes it's blues, sometimes it's R&B, sometimes jazz. In Miss Tess's case, it is rock 'n' roll and Country & Western, two genres which were somewhat married at the hip in the fifties and sixties. I mean, look at the charts. I certainly never looked upon Faron Young and Ferlin Husky and even Marty Robbins as country, not in the beginning, though they became so as the genres split. Even when I listen to Hank Williams, I hear a lot of rock 'n' roll. So when musicians look to the past, that's roots.
It helps that it starts out with a great rocker from the catalog of Ted Hawkins, Sorry You're Sick. Upbeat and bouncy, the song is a perfect fit for Tess's vocal, uh, stylings, shall we say? While she rocks the vocals, The Talkbacks choogle the bandside like they were born to it. The only original, The Love I Have For You, is a flashback to the rock 'n' roll era a la Elvis and his ilk, reminiscent of late-fifties and early-sixties rock and country. Gotta give credit for picking The Alabama Waltz out of the Hank Williams songbook instead of one of the standards we hear all the time. I have most of what Hank has ever recorded, commercially at least, and am shocked that others don't dig this deep. Can't do country much better than covering Willie (no last name needed) and his Night Life is handled beautifully here. Randy Newman? I mean, Randy Newman? If Bet No One Ever Hurt This Bad did not have the awful Spinning Wheel chord progression on the first line, I would like this more. It was hard for me to get beyond it after having hated that song for decades, but give the band credit that I am willing to overlook what I consider a Newman gaffe. If Tess had to cover anyone, I would think that it would be Bonnie Raitt and she and band kick a bit of jumpin' blues on Raitt's Give It Up Or Let Me Go. A good fit. Neil Young has written some fine songs over his career, but I find his country-ish songs disappointing, on the whole. Still, The Talkbacks carry Hold Back the Tears into the desert and conjure up dust and dusters. They also conjure up salty beer and salty tears. More than one man (or woman, for that matter) has tried to heal romantic wounds with alcohol. Another beer, bartender, and a quarter for the jukebox.
Like I said earlier, if anything holds this collection of songs together it is the ease with which Tess and band handle them. This listens like a great night at the local tavern, guys and gals in cowboy boots sliding over the dance floor and beer flowing smoothly. I am downright embarrassed to have missed it last September when it was released. Damn embarrassed.
While the song in this video is from a different project, it shows the basis for the praise heaped upon the band. One day, I hope to see them live, the gods willing.
Frank O. Gutch Jr.
(Frank Gutch Jr. writes and has written for numerous magazines and websites, presently including this blog, his own website and the prestigious Don't Believe A Word I Say site put together by musician and music pundit Bob Segarini out of Toronto. He specializes in the Indies, having fought hand-to-hand combat with major record labels for decades (talk about zombies). He believes music should be the core of the music business, though business it mostly be, and denies the accepted reality in the stead of the artistic one. Seldom does he receive pay for articles and/or reviews and believes that there is no place for negatives in a world in which one cannot keep up with the positives. He is, in a sense, a lost soul in a sea of music--- drowning, but drowning gratefully.)