Part of the charm that Miss Tess always exudes stems from the fact that she's not easy to define. Not surprisingly then, "The Moon is an Ashtray" provides the perfect case in point. As with her earlier efforts, the Nashville native and seductive chanteuse isn't concerned about being pigeonholed or typecast with any specific niche. A varied effort which touches on a variety of genres - vintage R&B, straight out rock and roll and caressing balladry - it proves she's as varied as she is versatile. Part of the credit ought to go to her co-producers Andrija Tokic - who's sat behind the boards for the likes of Margo Price, Alabama Shakes and Hurray for the Riff Raff, and Thomas Bryan Eaton, her erstwhile bandmate and steadfast musical collaborator.
If that penchant for diversity makes it all the more difficult to nail her down, the elusive meaning borne by the title doesn't help enlighten matters either. It references an old photo Tess came across, a movie still from the 1930s that pictured a group of cross-looking women sitting atop the moon in a seemingly unsettled state of mind. To her, it represented a distinct digression from the standard view of the moon as a romantic mistress. Instead, the image represented something dark, dank and dusty... kinda like an ashtray.
To prove the point, Tess takes on a decided sway and swagger, an unapologetic attitude that doesn't deter from the melodic qualities conveyed herein, whether it's the ballads that bookend the set as a whole - specifically, opening track "The Truth Is" and the closer, the nocturnal jazz shared in "Riverboat Song" as well as "These Blues" and "If You Don't Know How To Love Me," a pair of tender tunes found in-between.
She further dabbles in diversity, from the soulful strains of "True Flood" and the rocking regalia of "Take It Easy" (no, not the Eagles/Jackson Browne tune), to the yodeling and honky tonk found in the descriptively titled "I Wanna Be A Cowboy." Miss Tess' talent is as evident as always, and this particular "Moon" illuminates that fact fully.
Lee Zimmerman is a freelance writer and author based in Maryville, Tenn. He also expounds on music on his web site, Stories Beyond the Music - Americana Music Reviews, Interviews & Articles. His book - Americana Music - Voices, Visionaries and Pioneers of an Honest Sound is available from Texas A&M University Publishing.