TESS HENLEY: Easy To Love (Label: Hey Listen To This Music)

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The beguiling Tess Henley hails from Seattle where she was born and raised in a musical family. The 21 year old’s mother is a professional entertainer and brother Carson, sister Maggie and Tess herself have all won the Seattle version of American Idol – but their music isn’t the brash, in-your-face throwaway variety that you’d usually associate with programmes of that type. The Henley approach to music is all about craftsmanship, commitment and an appreciation of what truly constitutes musicality. Here Tess, carrying the family flag, shows that she realizes that a singer is nothing without great songs and that an album of good songs is better for having a concentrated focus. More, in producer David Thompson, she’s found a kindred spirit who’s savvy enough to allow the songs’ melodies to speak for themselves without a distracting bombardment of embellishments. ‘Easy To Love’ is Tess Henley’s debut recording, and it shows a remarkable maturity and focus. That’s to say, unlike a lot of contemporary soul, it’s a compact piece of work – with a beginning, middle and end … and not overlong. The beginning and end are complementary songs dedicated to Tess’s inspirational grandfather, Pompi. The intro is a short, sombre piano and voice piece (Tess is an accomplished pianist, by the way) while the outro, ‘Pompi’s Song’ is a moody gospel builder featuring a choir led by the redoubtable William Demps. Sandwiched in between are 6 great songs offering a real variety yet held together by Tess’s sweet vocals and her gentle piano. The most immediate song is the title cut. It’s a gentle mid-paced, frothy swayer that will please fans of Swing Out Sister. Draped in luscious harmonies, it’s truly infectious – but then so are ‘Complicated’, ‘Fool For You’ and the Latin-inflected ‘Understand It’s You’. ‘Disguise’ and ‘Hitting Me Hard Now’ are more dramatic. The latter features some sweet and quirky harmonies while the former will draw comparisons with Alicia Keys – especially in the piano work. Indeed that comparison is a good reference point. Like the New Yorker, Tess Henley makes music that’s in a line that can be traced back through artists like India Arie, Brenda Russell, Laura Nyro to Carole King. Tess Henley – ‘Easy To Love’? …You bet. The album is available now via the usual internet outlets. For more information go to www.tesshenley.com
(BB) 4/5