Okay, so everyone’s heard me blab plenty about Miss Tess — her singing, her songwriting, her band the Talk Backs — but there’s more reason to crow: a new CD, a show tonight at the Lizard Lounge that you should get yourself too, and a promising newcomer who opened for Tess last night. Oh, and Miss Tess and the Talk Backs are also returning to the Lizard for a special New Year’s Day Show.
First things first. The EP-length CD, The Love I Have for You (Signature Sounds) comprises the original title cut and six covers, including Hank WIlliams’s “The Alabama Waltz,” Willie Nelson’s “NIght Life,” and Bonnie Raitt’s “Give It Up or Let It Go.”
At the Lizard, Tess sang all of those, plus the new CD’s opener, “Sorry You’re Sick,” by the late Venice Beach busker Ted Hawkins, with the deathless refrain: “What do you want from the liquor store — something sour, something sweet!” As Tess explained about Hawkins (who released one record on Rounder), “Everybody liked him, but he kept messing up.”
Tess is not messing up. The Talk Backs are lean and swinging, with Tess and Will Graefe on guitars, Larry Cook on bass, and Matt Meyer on drums. This is the line-up she’s had for a while, since she scaled back the more jazzy stylings of her Bon Ton Parade, which at one time featured a full horn section. At the risk of repeating myself (see my earlier post), the band can rock out, swing hard, or play a slinky mambo, and Tess’s singing is right there with them — equal parts vulnerability and confident swagger. She was especially appealing belting out the Raitt hook or the demands on her own “If You Wanna Be My Man” (“Now you’re taking out your little black book/you think you got a fish on a hook”).
Also a treat last night was Neha.
The young singer was raised in New Jersey by strict Indian family (at the Lizard, she distributed a charming postcard in full sari and traditional jewelry with the caption, “This is me as a child and that is my cousin. These outfits are real”). She got an economics degree at Northwestern, did a stint at Google, and then enrolled in the masters program at New England Conservatory. (The photo here is from a performance at Scullers.) She now lives in Brooklyn (natch).
At the Lizard, Neha was in the deep-jazz vein, singing and playing a string of originals that had the classic sound of the Great American Songbook, with her own cheeky lyrics (“Don’t get all boyfriend-y with me/. . . just give me some affection”). She had a warm, pliant voice, and a sharp band (Bobby Spellman on trumpet, bassist Frank Ajeda, and drummer Connor Baker). I’ll look foward to hearing them again soon.
In the meantime, Tess and the Talk Backs will return to the Lizard tonight, with Michael Tarbox opening this time. Then, on New Year’s Day at the Lizard, they join Girls Guns and Glory for that band’s Hank WIlliams Tribute. Catch them while you can.