After doing the Berklee thing, plugging all the local hot spots from the Plough & Stars to the Regattabar, writing a sheaf of dandy original material and covering plenty of other good stuff, MISS TESS took off for Brooklyn two years ago with the rotating cast of her BON TON PARADE. Last night she was back at a familiar haunt, the Lizard Lounge, celebrating the release of a two-disc set, Live Across the Mason Dixon Line — one half recorded at the R-bar, the other at Eddie’s Attic in Decatur, Georgia. Both the album and the first set at the Lizard show Tess at the fullest realization yet of her particular slice of Americana — a mix of Texas swing, rockabilly, jazzy standards, country, and singer-songwriterly folk-pop.
One of the things that makes the current Tess iteration so satisfying is her current band. Drummer Matt Meyer and bassist Dan Weller provide the requisite swing, but with detail (check Meyer’s little parade-beat rolls on Tess’s New Orleans tribute). Will Graefe is a brilliant guitar picker, capable of all manner of fills and concise, pointed solo statements — ringing one moment, then whining, then roaring. And he seems to have upped the ante on Tess’s playing of her vintage Weymann electric, which was always deliberate, jazz-informed, and apt, but now steps out with new confidence. Especially tasty was the twin lead she played with Graefe on the Texas-swing number about life on the road, “Everybody’s Darling, but Nobody’s Sweetheart.”
That one in particular tune got me thinking that Tess should have someone plugging her songs in Nashville and elsewhere. She now has a book of material that could stand on its own, ripe for interpretation by another performer (even if they’d miss out on some of the Bon Ton Parade’s dandy arrangement for three-part vocal harmonies from the boys and the limber allure of her own singing). And maybe some extra pocket change so Tess could keep this terrific little band on the road and happy. They’re getting ready to record a studio disc, she said, due in the spring. Can’t wait.