The singular quality that has probably posed a marketing nightmare is also what makes Miss Tess such a pleasure. Her versatility is a rejoinder to how we expect to put musicians into neat little boxes according to genre.
With Miss Tess, who lived in Boston for five years before uprooting to New York City in 2000, the adjectives are constantly in flux. Once you’ve definitively decided she’s a rhythmic jazz singer, she’ll throw in a western swing tune and follow it with a honky-tonk dance number.
“Sweet Talk,” her latest album with her band, which she recently rechristened the Talkbacks, is an unabashed reminder that there’s nothing wrong with casting a wide net. It features her usual hodgepodge of styles and eras, sounding like a neon jukebox loaded with 50 years of popular music.
“Adeline” has a New Orleans beat, complete with second-line exuberance, while noirish 1950s twang emerges on “This Affair.” On “Save Me St. Peter,” she splits the difference between torch and twang, and the spirit of Les Paul lives on in the jaunty “Everybody’s Darling.”
Local musician Zachariah Hickman (who continues his winning streak after his beautiful work on Rose Cousins’s recent “We Have Made a Spark”) produced the album, which is Miss Tess’s first for Signature Sounds, a label out of Northampton. He and Miss Tess keep the focus on her nimble vocals and resonant guitar work.
They save the best for last, a lover’s lament whose languid opening line feels rather enticing: “I don’t want to set the world on fire/ I just want to start a little flame in your heart.”
(Out Oct. 16)
Miss Tess & the Talkbacks will play CD-release shows at Lizard Lounge Oct. 4-5, 9 p.m. Tickets: $12. 617-547-0459, www.brownpapertickets.com