In an era when it seems like most every single piece of “country” music must come with some sort of prefix, suffix, or other qualifier or explanation attached to it—and it’s even more difficult to find younger performers still willing to steadfastly adhere to the traditional modes of the genre—Tessy Lou Williams and this debut album is like the answer to all prayers, the fulfilling of all requests, auspiciously plugging a gaping hole in the country music environment with a worthy and worthwhile effort that announces Tessy’s strong move into this bereft but important sphere of music.
A Montana native that grew up in a very small town with musician parents who had migrated from Nashville (Kenny and Claudia Williams of Montana Rose), the traditions of country are interwoven into the very fiber of Tessy Lou’s being, and are expressed unadulterated in this ten-song, self-titled work that acts as a launching pad for Tessy’s strong and expressive voice, and blossoms into a worthy showcase for her original songs.
The name might be new to you, but Tessy Lou Williams has already been performing for some ten years in family bands, in Tessy Lou and the Shotgun Stars with her dad, and she relocated to Austin where she caught the eye of Warehouse Records while performing on the famous stage of Poodies outside of Austin. Traveling to Nashville to write and perform, Tessy Lou has fallen in with some of the most respected names of traditional country, and worked with producer Luke Wooten to bring this debut record to life.
Appearing on the album as co-writers are names like Larry Cordle, Brennen Leigh, Lesley Satcher, and Jerry Salley. Performing on it are the highly-respected Brian Sutton and Aubrey Haynie, Ashley Campbell on banjo, and Larry Cordle, Jerry Salley, Brennen Leigh, and Jon Randall all singing backup. Seeing the list of talent this record accrued speaks to the respect Tessy Lou Williams has earned from her peers in the traditional country realm already.
But you don’t come to listen to names, it’s the songs of the record that re-awaken the emotionally-rich moments of authentic country music. With titles like “Your Forever Will Never Say Goodbye” and “Somebody’s Drinking About You,” you can expect sincereity and moments of heartbreak, and that’s exactly what you get, including one of the crowning moments of the album, “Mountain Time in Memphis,” which traces Tessy’s lineage from Montana to Tennessee time. Along with six songs co-written by Williams herself, the record concludes in a rendition of Webb Pierce’s “Pathways of Teardrops,” which helps certify how steeped this record is in traditional country.
The question with a record like this is not the quality of the writing, or the top notch musicianship captured in the sessions at Nashville’s Station West, but how will it capture the ear and interest of the wider audience Tessy Lou’s songs and voice deserve? Some like to mix a little rock or pop in their music so it broadens its appeal, even if it results in something less country. You can still be country and include a dimension of variety, or spice. But this record falls a little short in offering something unique between the separate tracks. It doesn’t need a lot, but just a little something to make Tessy Lou not just true country, but truly unique within that realm.
But what an excellent foundation and opening salvo this is from an artist we hope to hear more from well into the future. Country music isn’t dead. It’s bursting from the heart of Tessy Lou Williams through compelling stories, soaring vocal performances, and music that underscores how timeless and timely traditional country music still is, and will always be.
1 3/4 Guns Up (8.5/10)
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