TRUCKEE, Calif. — In the mood for a slice of sonic nostalgia this weekend? Look to Moody’s Bistro in Truckee, where New York City quartet Miss Tess and the Talkbacks will offer a honky-tonk, country-swing style jazz Friday and Saturday night.
“This will be our first time playing in California, and a few places in the Northwest; Alaska as well,” Miss Tess said. “We put out an album a few months ago called ‘Sweet Talk.’ We’re playing some music from that.”
While this is the Talkbacks’ first time in California, the band is no stranger to touring, she said, estimating their output at 150 to 180 shows a year.
Miss Tess (lead vocals, guitar) is joined on the road by Thomas Bryan Eaton (guitar), Larry Cook (bass) and Matt Meyer (drums). Cook is a new addition, replacing bassist Danny Weller who recorded for “Sweet Talk.” Eaton is filling in for regular guitarist Will Graefe, but played pedal steel guitar on the album.
“It’s a slightly rotating cast but generally the same group of people,” Miss Tess said. Along with their work with the Talkbacks, all of the members work on other musical projects in New York City, she said.
Recorded at a farmhouse in rural Maine, “Sweet Talk” was released in October. The album represents a marked transition in the band’s style, replacing a saxophone and clarinet with another guitar. The band’s prior reed player departed last year, leading to the addition of the second guitar. Along with personnel and stylistic changes, Tess switched the band’s name from the Bon Ton Parade to Miss Tess and the Talkbacks.
“It’s all guitars and occasionally some pedal steel,” Miss Tess said. “The album is our first on the record label, Signature Sounds. We changed the name of the band about a year ago to the Talkbacks to kind of signify a different direction we’re headed in. There’s a little more country, early rock and roll influence coming in, so it’s a little less jazzy then it used to be when we had a sax and clarinet in the band.”
“The original band when I started was a five piece,” she said. “It had a guitar and horns, and me as the guitar player I think I was really missing a chord instrument for more support.”
Miss Tess’s sweet and sassy vocals laid over the band’s crisp backing make for a golden 1950s era sound with a countrified rockabilly jazz feel. Improvisation is a fun part of the Talkbacks’ music, the bandleader said.
“We all have some sort of jazz background that gives us the ability to play around with stuff, keep it interesting,” she said. “It’s really just a tool for us to keep the music alive and interesting, for the audience and ourselves, playing it night after night.”