A well is a stone-encircled place of depth, keeping an abundance of water for survival. “Well” is also a phrase for pause, for transition in language. Our tears can well up and bubble over. To define ourselves as “well” is the most basic term of goodness.
What’s on the other side of the well? Inside the tunnel of change, or this life, we can either feel intimidated by the darkness of uncertainty, or excited by the possibility of nourishment. Songwriter, guitarist, and vocalist Jess Shoman wonders, “what the hell,” why don’t we go for the excess of love we deserve? Tenci’s album A Swollen River, A Well Overflowing becomes a gathering and collection of well-like vessels – cups, puddles, fists – to hold tight to this love, newfound joy.
A Swollen River, A Well Overflowing is Tenci’s second album, coming after their 2020 debut My Heart Is An Open Field, which introduced Jess Shoman’s experimentations to the world. With guidance of the push and pull of intuitive guitar and vocal edges, Tenci is a band that plays with time. Shoman admits that their first album dealt with letting go of painful life experiences, resulting in emptiness. In this recent collection of wiser years and distance from that former grief zone, Tenci carries an opposite feeling, a celebration of self-rejuvenation. A Swollen River, A Well Overflowing shows Shoman steering their inventive folk style further and wilder, spilling over with 12 fable-like songs. In a combination of milk, coins, glass, contained water, and light, each song forms a spell to “fill my heart back up,” Shoman says, “by reframing complex feelings by turning my head sideways and seeing them in a different way.”
From the close-knit Chicago scene, Shoman is joined by Curtis Oren on saxophone and guitar (Curt Oren), Izzy Reidy on bass (Izzy True), and Joseph Farago on drums (Joey Nebulous). In the past couple years, they’ve been playing shows together at home in Chicago, on their tours around the country, and recording this album with Abby Black, adding fuller instrumentation and natural harmony of friends. While the themes of Tenci shuffle around a serious pool of thought and trying to understand life’s wrongings, their live set often interludes with goofy light-heartedness. Anyone who knows the band members of Tenci knows they are the funniest people on earth. And their playful coordination and dynamics of loose drums and bass, huffing sax, and vocal waterfalls leaves us warmer than before. The songs on A Swollen River, A Well Overflowing bundle together like weavings of twigs to create that fire, a burning message to keep going and going.
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