Tess Henley – ‘Wonderland’

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I feel like I am jumping on a bandwagon when I say that Tess Henley is a singer that is going places. I discovered her via Twitter and had the chance to listen to her excellent new EP ‘Wonderland’. This prompted me to do a little research and what I discovered was that I am late to the show when it comes to Tess, but thought I’d share the fruits of my labour nonetheless.

Tess has been playing piano since the age of three and by the age of five was astounding her professional singer mother with the way she could dissect a difficult harmony. Tess has been quoted as saying that it was her mother who inspired her: “She’s really the reason I got into singing. I would practice with her in the car. She was in a covers band. I was singing a lot of the songs that she was singing in her band – Bonnie Raitt, a lot of Motown, soul music. She really influenced me a lot.” Tess went to school in Kent, Washington and then off to University at the University of Washington. It was during this time she was writing and recording her early material.

She released her debut album, ‘Easy To Love’ at the tender age of twenty in 2008 and spent the years before her second album, ‘High Heels and Sneakers’ slowly raising awareness of her music. She won several awards and even had one of her songs featured in the 2012 movie, ‘Hello I Must Be Going’, for which she won an Independent Music Award. Her second album garnered further critical acclaim with another Independent Music Award for the track, ‘Daydreaming’, and a grand prize win in the ‘Show Me The Music’ songwriting competition for the track, ‘Who Are You’.

It was this critical success that enabled Tess to fund her musical projects. She has been quoted as saying, ”I’ve gotten lucky with these projects to have something come my way and help out financially”.

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Then, in March 2014, Tess became the first female winner of the Guitar Centre Singer/Songwriter Competition. Multi Grammy Award winner Don Was selected Tess from a top 300 performers in the National Artist Discovery Program after over ten thousand original entries were whittled down. For this, she won music gear, $25,000 and, much more significantly for a young artist, an EP to be recorded with Don Was.

So here we are in 2015 with the EP ‘Wonderland’ having come out and Was describing her as being “unlike any artist that’s out there now, a world class singer with a true gift” and Billboard magazine describing her music as “a classy brand of soulful R&B that could hold up in any era of Was’ storied career”. Was went on to describe the session in the following way: “Sometimes magic just happens, you can’t really legislate that. There’s no producer in the world who can make that happen. All you can do is try to set up a situation where if the lightning strikes the room, you’ve got the tape rolling. And lightning struck. It was a really charmed session, and Tess was amazing, didn’t miss a note all day.”

After such a big build up I guess the best thing to do is what I did, and check out Tess’s new EP and I promise you won’t be disappointed. Her smooth, silky vocals perfectly complement her songs and there is an ambience of soul and emotion that harks to a different time in music when the listener used to get carried away on the vocals and not on over-production. Was says, “It was very stripped down, very warm, real sounding” and added, “it was kind of an old school record making”.

Don Was put together a fantastic group of musicians for the EP. For instance, James Gadson played drums. Was says “He was in the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band and he played on

Express Yourself and he played on the Bill Withers record and with Marvin Gaye”, “He has a warm and natural sound, an incredible feel. if you sit in the room with him, he’s got an incredible feel. It was capturing the sound of that. Everyone played live, Tess sang live.”

As Billboard says: “Don Was has produced The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, John Mayer, and Bonnie Raitt, so when he takes on a little known artist, it’s a good idea to listen up. Enter the silky smoothness of Tess Henley”.

I hope you take the time to check out this beautiful EP and I look forward to the promise held therein turning into a new album and maybe some exposure in England. Surely the only disappointment of this EP, and I guess any great EP, is that there are only four songs (although there are two great acoustic bonuses to the EP on iTunes). Enjoy!

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