Tessy Lou Williams | Tessy Lou Williams | (Independent)
4.5 out of 5 Stars
Stepping out as a soloist can be a behemoth task. Having spent the better part of a decade fronting Tessy Lou & the Shotgun Stars, Tessy Lou Williams appears unfazed in plunging ahead, and she does so with reckless abandon and remarkable clarity. On her self-titled debut, produced by Luke Wooten (The Steeldrivers, The Louvin Brothers), she swims through classic country waters as an Olympic swimmer in her prime. 10 songs rise with the emotional severity of recent offerings from American Aquarium and Jason Isbell, and it is her voice needling the patchwork together that lingers most on the mind.
There emerges an ease through which she glides through bluesy, neon-decorated honky-tonks, two-stepping her way between Patty Loveless and Lee Ann Womack. Those references are merely jumping off points for what lies ahead of her: an outstanding roster of traditional tunes that’ll turn more than a few heads. Country’s storytelling traditions seep from her pores, as if she had been doing this her whole life, and she conveys timeless fine-tuners, gentle weepers, and sturdy heart-warmers with a ravishing delicacy.
“Why Do I Still Want You” aches from the inside-out, a merciless prayer gripping the heart as she wrestles to forget a forlorn, perhaps dangerous, lover. Her heart’s scars are her guiding hand, and the emotional storm is just brewing. She sculpts her voice through the winding, seemingly endless hills, from “Mountain Time in Memphis” to the heart-swollen “Someone Lonely.” Later, “Somebody’s Drinking About You” best captures her chest-pounding heartache, woven into the album’s backbone, and it never lets up.
Dreamy and exquisite, Tessy Lou Williams’ voice alone will be enough to knock you off your feet and feel every sharp blade of her misery. Equipped with such high-caliber tuneage, also including “One More Night” and “Pathway of Teardrops,” she arrives as one of country music’s finest assets. Her debut, engineered by Austin Stanley and Kyle Manner, features a wide range of musicians: Bryan Sutton (acoustic guitar, electric guitar, banjo, mandolin) and Mike Johnson (pedal steel, dobro, pedalbro) to Aubrey Haney (fiddle, mandolin), Kevin Grant (bass), Greg Morrow and Mark Beckett (drums), and Ashley Campbell (banjo).
Tessy Lou Williams: a name you won’t possibly forget.