Tess Henley - High Heels & Sneakers (2013)

Tess Henley
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Tess Henley is a pianist trained since three in the Suzuki Method. She’s also a vocalist possessing the vocal dexterity that made her an opening act for Jill Scott and Anthony Hamilton. However, songwriting is Henley’s calling card. Her work as a songwriter did more than win her accolades – it also won the Seattle native awards. Henley won the three awards at the John Lennon 2011 International Songwriting Competition. Her song “Boy in the Window” from her 2010 EP The Appetizer claimed the 2011 Independent Music Award for Best R&B Song. Henley also took the top prize in SoulTracks’ International Song Competition.

That kind of resume will raise expectations for Henley’s latest project, the recently released High Heels & Sneakers. The songwriting more than measures up, and those who place a premium on musicianship and production values will also walk away happy.

Tess Henley is a pianist trained since three in the Suzuki Method. She’s also a vocalist possessing the vocal dexterity that made her an opening act for Jill Scott and Anthony Hamilton. However, songwriting is Henley’s calling card. Her work as a songwriter did more than win her accolades – it also won the Seattle native awards. Henley won the three awards at the John Lennon 2011 International Songwriting Competition. Her song “Boy in the Window” from her 2010 EP The Appetizer claimed the 2011 Independent Music Award for Best R&B Song. Henley also took the top prize in SoulTracks’ International Song Competition.

That kind of resume will raise expectations for Henley’s latest project, the recently released High Heels & Sneakers. The songwriting more than measures up, and those who place a premium on musicianship and production values will also walk away happy.

High Heels & Sneakers sports ballads such as “Going Back” and the beautiful “You Are the One.” The up-tempo tunes come multiple speeds. There is the jaunty pop/soul of “Daydreaming,” a track in which Henley engages in a mid-day reverie about a romantic getaway with her guy. This is one of many songs on High Heels & Sneakers where Henley displays mastery in writing hooks.  She moves to brassy funk on “Daydreaming,” while the energetic “Heartless Queen” sports a bouncy Caribbean feel punctuated by Latin tinged horns. Henley alters tempos like a master operator. However, quality lyrics remain the constant.

Henley’s songwriting possesses qualities expected from a good lyricist.  One such talent is the ability to capture the magic of a specific moment in time. This is a necessity for anyone who writes love songs. That comes through on the mid-tempo “Part of My Dance.” Here, Henley tells the story of falling on a crowded street at the moment that she locks eyes with a good-looking dockworker. Instead of being dissuaded by an embarrassing moment that leaves her with dusty and with ripped jeans, the lady decides to let the guy know that she likes what she sees.  The lyrics on “Something to Say” match the musical arrangement’s blues/funk feel, as well as Henley’s sassy vocal delivery. The tune finds Henley telling her soon-to-be ex that despite his sweet kisses and style, she can no longer deal with his inflexible and arrogant ways.

Henley’s bailiwick is love and romance, which means that she has to fight the perception that her lyrics are simple. Love songs didn’t always have such a bad reputation. Romance was the stock and trade of Great American Songbook lyricists. Smokey Robinson is another highly regarded songwriters. It’s probably too soon to elevate Henley to that lofty status, but listeners won’t get too far into High Heels & Sneakers before acknowledging that Henley’s got skills worthy of both awards and applause.  Highly Recommended.

By Howard Dukes

 

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