Miss Tess & The Talkbacks featuring special guest Cleopatra Degher $8 adv / $10 door

@ Seven Grand San Diego

The Brooklyn-based singer and her band make grooving modern
vintage music that nods to the traditions of saloon jazz, country
swing, early rockabilly, and New Orleans second line, yet somehow
maintains a unique and personal sound. Miss Tess & The Talkbacks have
just released The Love I Have For You, their second on rootsy label
Signature Sounds (Lake Street Dive, Eilen Jewell, Chris Smither, Erin
McKeown…). The new album was produced by Miss Tess & The Talkbacks and
recorded and mixed by Devin Greenwood (Norah Jones, Anais Mitchell,
Amos Lee) in Brooklyn, NY. The 7-song album features six covers and
one new original and pays homage to some of Tess’s favorite singers
and songwriters including Willie Nelson, Bonnie Raitt, Neil Young, Ted
Hawkins, Randy Newman, and Hank Williams. Miss Tess explains how the
band chose the 6 songs to cover: “Each artist we covered has held a
special place in the history of our lives, as well as in the history
of American music. These folks are all musical giants who dedicated
their lives to music, and for that I hold them in the highest esteem.”
In their earlier incarnation, they were known as Miss Tess and
the Bon Ton Parade and that, says Miss Tess, proved both too small of
a box and too confusing. They were consistently confused for a zydeco
band or a New Orleans band. “When I conceived of the band in Boston
back in 2006 or so, we had a horn player and we were a little more
jazz influenced,” she says. “In the last couple of years the sound has
evolved, something that naturally happens when you spend so much time
on the road with a band. We’ve become slightly edgier and there is
some more country and early rock n’ roll coming through. We now have
two electric guitars. I’d been thinking about a change for a while and
we finally settled on a name. With a name like the Talkbacks, it is
what it is.”
That’s a good thing because it’s not easy to define Miss Tess and
the Talkbacks.
Their last album, 2012′s Sweet Talk, includes 10 originals and a
smoldering cover of “I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire, ” the Ink
Spots classic. The originals include the bawdy cabaret of “Don’t Tell
Mama,” the waltzing “Save Me St. Peter” (“Walking on water is a hell
of a stand / With no solid ground and no helping hand.”), the dance
hop, swamp rocking of “People Come Here for Gold,” and the burning
jazz blues of “If You Wanna Be My Man,” which easily could have been
sung by Ella Fitzgerald or Sarah Vaughan, two of her early idols.
Miss Tess also lists Bonnie Raitt and Tom Waits among the artists
she admires. Both have that ambitious stylistic range. Waits, she
notes, “was able to take some of those older jazz and blues influences
and kind of twist them around and do his own thing.” That’s just what
Tess and her band do again and again with top notch musicianship to
“I think we do bring new sounds to the table,” she says. “I’m
trying to figure out how we do that. Our ears have been informed by
different things than the people who were living back then. We’re not
actively trying to copy anything. We’re making fresh arrangements,
kind of taking the feeling, style, and soul from some of this older
music that we like. ”
She says lately the band has taken a turn towards more of a
groove. “The newer stuff has been more early rock and roll, some Chuck
Berry influence, some Doug Sahm,” she says. “I think lately we’ve been
interested in dance music, something with a beat, a groove, something
that makes you want to shake around.”
Miss Tess grew up in Maryland and went to college in Baltimore
intending to be a graphic artist. She took piano lessons at an early
age and dabbled in guitar, though she didn’t start learning it
seriously until she was almost out of college. Her parents played
music in a variety of styles including big bands, swing, folk, jug
band, and blues groups. She listened to punk, grunge, and alternate
rock, and then got into rockabilly, old country, and early blues after
she moved to Boston. It all fits.
She was always traveling, taking road trips for months at a time
and one day driving away from the mountains after a Colorado bluegrass
festival and having written a few songs during her sojourns, she
decided music was her art. She went back to Baltimore and put together
a band. Eventually, she moved to Boston, took a few classes at
Berklee, and one a slew of local music awards. Later, came the move to
Brooklyn and has been there for almost four years. Her first album was
recorded with mom and dad playing with her, and she has been steadily
recording since. By the end of 2013 she will have nine albums under
her belt.
In Boston, she found the vintage archtop guitar she plays most of
the time. A friend suggested she get a guitar more suited to her style
and she found it on Craigslist. The seller lived a few blocks away so
she went to check it out. He had a bunch of guitars, but the archtop
grabbed her eye. She went back and visited with it several times. “It
had such a sweet tone,” she says. “I became obsessed with this
guitar.” Eventually, she plunked down the $825, a big chunk of change
for a student working a temp job. The guitar came with its original
case papers showing it was first owned by a woman in the 1930s. “I
said, it’s meant for me,” she says.

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