“With this release, Tess Henley injects a brightness and an effervescent quality that gives classic soul sound a fresh perspective. The material is smart, sweet and moves with ease from track to track.”
Artist: Tess Henley
Album: High Heels & Sneakers
RIYL: Alicia Keys, Jill Scott, Corinne Bailey Rae
Writing that Tess Henley is a neo-soul singer doesn’t quite do her justice. And doesn’t quite describe what she does. Tess has a style that’s more reminiscent of classic Philly soul mixed with a sweet spoonful of R&B. Which makes sense. This Seattle songstress traveled to Philadelphia to record this debut album under the supervision of Dice Raw (The Roots). Having spent some time in Philadelphia myself, I am familiar with how the surroundings and, well, “soul” of that city start to seap into everything that you do. Immersed in writing and recording in a town steeped in its own brand of soul seems to agree with Tess Henley, because the result is a smooth, easy-on-the-ears and stylized effort that seems destined for a much larger audience.
But Tess Henley is much more than your average soul chanteuse; she is clearly well-versed in and most informed by Motown, blues and her native Seattle and that shines through her songwriting. Yes, songwriting. Because as easy and silky as her vocals are, she also writes her material, which stands strong on its own. It bears mentioning her Seattle roots because this type of soul dips deep in the well of realism that also pervades the city’s hip-hop scene. It’s unapologetic in its lyrical approach and highly relatable to a wide cross-section of fans. Listening to this record feels like listening to Alicia Keys for the first time; like there’s a breakout moment right around the corner. When Tess catches on, and one listen will convince you this is inevitable, she has the potential and talent to move her career forward in whatever manner she chooses.
Lead singles “From the Get Go” and the sparkling “Daydreaming” are both pure joy to listen to, nodding to her past but embracing a pop sensibility that sets her up for easy crossover appeal. “Above” is a playful, delightfully delicate vocal display that’s all soft edges and sunshine. “Part Of My Dance” is another glittering sample of songwriting that finds Tess exploring self-empowerment, embracing her individuality and celebrating her unique voice as a female. But the song I kept going back and back to was “Heartless Queen.” It feels like Stevie Wonder-meets-Donna Summer and features an assertive and deliciously sassy Henley showing off her vocal range against a dynamic backdrop of horns and a driving beat.
High Heels & Sneakers is quite literally a breath of fresh air into an R&B landscape that is often mired in material that is over-produced, over-indulgent and completely derivative of what’s come directly before it. With this release, Tess Henley injects a brightness and an effervescent quality that gives classic soul sound a fresh perspective. The material is smart, sweet and moves with ease from track to track. Tess Henley shines in this album debut, and I suspect she won’t remain a secret weapon of the Seattle and Philly soul scenes for long.
Tess Henley website: http://tesshenley.com/