It doesn’t take long to listen to Tenille Townes’ new EP and realise that its title is full of irony. Far from putting on a disguise or pretending to be someone else, ‘Masquerades’ presents a new level of honesty for the Canadian singer-songwriter. She moves from observational storyteller to highly personal introspection, removing the mask to become decidedly vulnerable but incredibly relatable in the process. Fans have already responded positively to the single releases that form part of this 7-track collection. And they will not be disappointed to find similar on the remaining songs, which all feature Tenille’s inimitable vocal style and broad country-pop brushstrokes.
‘When You Need It’ ft. Wrabel is a delightfully delicate opener. It is a touching take on friendship that immediately lifts the soul. Touching on issues around mental health and wellbeing, it acknowledges the darkness whilst offering companionship. It values the simple things, like “just to hold your hand and say ‘Keep breathing’”, in times of greatest difficulty. Lines like “When the sun comes up and you don’t see it” really capture the sense of hopelessness metaphorically while the simple refrain of the chorus, “I’ll be there when you need it”, conveys the transformative effect of presence succinctly.
The presence of another, or rather their absence, is the subject of ‘When’s It Gonna Happen’, an infectious country-pop song about singleness previously reviewed here, and ‘The Sound of Being Alone’. The imagery that Tenille uses on this third track is as haunting as the atmosphere created by the strings and singular beats of the music. The ticking clock, rain on the window, the washing machine, and the silent phone help paint an almost ghostly picture of the single life that is tempered by the question “is it a bad thing that I’m good on my own?” It is the kind of wondering which hangs neatly in the air thanks to Tenille’s courageous ability to voice her experience and thus challenge convention.
‘Villain in Me’ does this on an intensely personal level. The acoustic recording of this song only adds to its sense of intimate revealing of the darker parts of Tenille’s self. She admitted when releasing this as the lead single that “this song terrifies me”. But by delving deep into the uncomfortable and hidden depths of herself she has struck a chord with fans appreciative of this exposé. Its brooding and reflective nature is reminiscent of an Emmylou Harris or Mary Chapin Carpenter record. It is beautifully moody. Meanwhile, ‘Shared Walls’ adds a touch of pop production to the acoustic guitar to make it more of a slow-tempo Swift-style track. This duet with Breland pushes that longing for connection back to the forefront, not only in the lyrics but through the high vocals. It is mysteriously enchanting.
The EP ends with the anthemic ‘Same Road Home’, a thoughtful crowd-pleaser that confidently delivers its universalist message, and ‘Light in Your Eyes’, a gently romantic driving song that captures a Glen Campbell/John Denver-esque sound. Both seem to veer away from the introspective quality of the earlier songs and back toward the classic observational material of ‘The Lemonade Stand’. This makes them no less welcome however on an EP whose success lies in its heart-on-sleeve approach. ‘Masquerades’ may have been made in the grip of lockdown but its material speaks of a state of being that goes beyond the pandemic experience. This is why it will last, and why Tenille Townes continues to gain a reputation as one of Nashville’s best.
Originally written and published on Belles & Gals on April 21st 2022.
Featured Image (C) Tenille Townes