Miss Tess | Darling, Oh Darling

Self-released (2009)
By JON GARELICK  |  December 2, 2009
3.5 3.5 Stars

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Boston singer-songwriter Miss Tess has always had the pipes and the taste to carry off her various ventures into country, blues, and multi-hued swing, but Darling, Oh Darling underlines her overall sound. In the past, that sound has been defined by her voice and the sweet strum and sting of her vintage Weymann electric guitar, but on this set of 12 originals (plus one alternate), it’s the arrangements, with some carefully deployed special guests, that make the difference.

That means various combinations of growling muted trombone and trumpet, swing clarinet, huffing Ben Webster–like tenor sax, boogie-woogie piano, pedal steel guitar, subtly mixed ooh-ooh-bop-bop-bop backing vocals, and brush-driven drums. There’s also a spare banjo ballad and, in “I Don’t Wanna See You Anymore,” her most overt rockabilly rave-up, a brash kiss-off that’s a departure from her usual wistful resignation and wised-up optimism.

Only one love song here maybe faces its subject too head-on, but that’s more than made up for by “Time Can Take the Pain Away,” a slow waltz anchored by tuba and trumpet that turns to full brass choir, reeds, and light martial drumming before giving way to flute. It’s got gravity, but it’s also lighter than air — a good description of Tess herself. Long-time bandmate Alec Spiegelman arranged the horns, and he’s never served her better.

MISS TESS | Lizard Lounge, 1667 Mass Ave, Cambridge | December 3-4 at 9:30 pm [8 pm doors] | $12 | 617.547.0759 or www.brownpapertickets.com

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