AZTEC — There will surely be no better place to grab a partner and take a spin across a dance floor than at the Aztec Theater tonight.
From the super-hip borough of Brooklyn, N.Y., comes Miss Tess and the Talkbacks, a swinging, hip-shaking, bass-slappin', retro band.
The band oozes the charm of mid-20th century jazz, country, rock and cabaret. The group will sashay into Aztec for a live show at Crash Music in the historic Aztec Theater Saturday night.
"They are this incredible swing band that lost their horn players and then evolved into this honky-tonk sound," said George Rowe, co-owner of Crash Music. "People are going to want to dance to this. It's really sophisticated, country music, but you just have to hear them, see them, to fully appreciate their phenomenal sound."
With a voice that spans the American song book of legends like Billie Holiday, Patsy Cline, Bessie Smith and Peggy Lee, Miss Tess swoons, croons and cries amidst a sultry backdrop of infectious toe-tapping rhythms.
Hearing the band's songs on its 2012 album recorded in a Maine farmhouse, "Sweet Talk," may be the musical equivalent of finding the ultimate vintage dress in a secondhand shop that not only fits but feels right and leaves enough change in your purse for streetcar fare home.
Miss Tess' first record, back in 2005, was simply titled, "Home." It was recorded in the living room of her family's house, with musical help from her mom playing upright bass and dad on sax and clarinet. Seven albums later, a new name and many miles of touring charted, the group has grown in sound as Tess has grown up.
"I featured sax and clarinet in the band, which has a certain connotation in a lot of people's minds and ears. By replacing woodwinds with a second guitar, the sound becomes more versatile," Miss Tess said of her band's current sound. "We can still swing, but we also sound more country. I find I'm also writing differently -- there's a more rooted, Americana influence. There's still an aesthetic from the '40s and '50s in play, but we're mixing in these country, blues, jazz, and early rock 'n' roll influences in a way that really feels new to me."
But don't assume the group is just a backdrop for Tess' vocal prowess.
The rhythm section of drums, stand-up bass and piano is given added musical polish with a touring band that features lap steel, pedal steel and guitars. Live, the group saunters through a milky constellation of waltzy ballads, ricochets across a street corner of up-tempo jukebox jams and slinks through a back-beat prism glass sharp enough to quickly cut that rug.
Guitars and lap steel strings evoke, at times, a Chet Atkins tune or something earlier when Tess plays rhythm on her 1930s small body archtop guitar.
Until the show at Crash, a full preview of the group's music can be found at misstessmusic.com, including a special gem of Tess tackling the yodeling master Jimmie Rodgers' classic, "Why Should I Be Lonely," with Tess' mom on banjo ukulele and her dad on clarinet.