Sonia Tetlow

Own Way Home

(Threadhead Records)

Sonia Tetlow, Own Way Home, album cover

Sonia Tetlow was the second of four female singer/bassists to join Cowboy Mouth in remarkably quick succession, and she’s now the second (after Mary Lasseigne) to make a solo album. And like Lasseigne’s album, it reveals a writing and singing depth barely hinted at during her time with the Mouth.

The title track makes for a grabbing opener: Its arrangement is purposely busy, a second line groove with Paul Sanchez uncharacteristically wailing on lead guitar and Shamarr Allen and Craig Klein adding raucous horn parts. Tetlow doesn’t shout over this racket—instead her voice is soft and inviting, the lyric confesses loneliness and a need to move on. The contrast works to the song’s advantage; it feels like you’ve just met someone especially interesting at a crowded party.
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Tetlow tells a few more secrets on these 13 songs, and she’s confident enough to bury the catchiest one, the punkish “Rodeo,” as the second-to-last track. The other songs get into deeper emotional territory, as sex rears its ugly head on “Easy,” and ”Treading Water” looks at a relationship just before it ends. “Lonely Street” recalls a teenage suicide attempt but its morning-after resolution is more upbeat; guitarist Alex McMurray jumps in at the right time, playing a quick solo that quotes George Benson’s “Breezin’” just when the singer needs some reassurance. The closing “Holding On” thanks the friend or lover who got her through the dark times, throwing a Crazy Horse-like groove into the bargain.

The usual Threadhead suspects lend all-star backup here, with Lassiegne and Debbie Davis among the backup singers, and drummer Eric Bolivar and bassist/sousaphonist Matt Perrine anchoring the rhythm section. But it’s Tetlow’s voice that takes most of the spotlight. Her big showpiece is the seven-minute ballad “If You Took My Heart;” here again her understatement makes it work. Most performers would go for a big outburst in the last chorus, but Tetlow shows how much a good singer can do with nuance.