Tenci “My Heart Is An Open Field” (Keeled Scales, 2020)

  • Tenci is really bedroom folk artist Jess Shoman backed by more famous musicians from the Chicago music scene and their debut album is released on Austin label Keeled Scales. Jess Shoman spent nearly ten years writing her songs before deciding to start playing them live in the clubs of Chicago. It was when she started appearing as a solo performer that she attracted the attention of Everyone Else vocalist Tina Scarpello, who started backing her on bass and brought her song demos to the attention of Spencer Radcliffe, who produced and played guitar, piano, sax and piano on ‘My Heart Is An Open Field’.

The songs are based on Shoman’s memories and her development as an individual and are therefore very personal. So personal, that the band is named after her grandmother, Hortencia, and a recording of her grandmother’s voice is included at the end of the album. It is the songs that have been attracting the attention and lifting Tenci’s profile above the level of similar artists. While the songs are folk based, the sound of Tenci moves into the area of dream pop with soundscapes comprised of synths, pedal steel, xylophone, sax and flute as well as the basic guitar drums bass and piano to support her vibrato.

My Heart Is An Open Field’ opens with ‘Earthquake’ which has distant echoes of Ennio Morricone as images of a western landscape are invoked to explore a country type approach to loss. The song maps out a failing relationship and the changes of emotion and wistfulness that is involved. Psychedelia raises its head on ‘Serpent’ , where Shoman uses the snake as metaphor for the twists and turns of moving on and rebirth as her true self. Her singing on this track runs the gauntlet of appearing to sing only for herself, to a full-throated cry. Shoman explores her concept of joy over two tracks ‘Joy’ and ‘Joy 2’. She has said “Joy is an emotion that’s always fleeting. You race to find it so you can fill yourself up, but just as quickly it can leave you. It’s a name that I’ve given to new love, a cake that sits out too long, the breeze, desire, solitude. The moments where you lose this feeling are just as important as when you have it. There’s comfort in knowing that Joy will always be there in between the moments of self-doubt.”. The music is based on acoustic guitars and with an added xylophone it emphasises the innocent wonder of the lyrics and on ‘Joy 2’ Shoman uses silence to enhance her melodies. Keening pedal steel guitar adds to the sadness of  ‘Forgot My Horse’s Name’  which is one of the best tracks on the album.

The songs on ‘My Heart Is An Open Field’ are raw and fresh due to the lo-fi approach to the recording and reflect the difficulties that Shoman has experienced in her life and as such have found a resonance in her native Chicago. Time will tell whether she can build on her promising songwriting start for that difficult second album. The songs are definitely on the indie folk spectrum with only periodic references to what could be called classic americana but if you are feeling a bit adventurous and want to share Shoman’s personal experiences then ‘My Heart Is An Open Field’ may be for you.

Bedroom folk with dream like soundscapes and personal songs
6/10

Author: Martin Johnson

I've been a music obsessive for more years than I care to admit to. Part of my enjoyment from music comes from discovering new sounds and artists while continuing to explore the roots of American 20th century music that has impacted the whole of world culture.

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