by Craig Howieson
‘There’s comfort in knowing that Joy will always be there in between the moments of self-doubt.’ These words from Jess Shoman – the creative force behind Chicago’s Tenci – make for a good summation of her debut record.
My Heart Is An Open Field is an album of fraught soul searching and inward glances, peppered with luminescent grains of hope. Throughout, Shoman remains stoically determined to dig out the weeds of the past in order to sow the seeds of change for tomorrow – leaving a trail of dusty footprints to follow and get lost with.
Shoman’s voice – at times beautifully lilting, at others cracked and trembling – veers from the close whisper of late-night phone conversations to inescapable siren calls. An instrument in its own right, it pierces through the southern gothic noir of the album, adding texture and depth to the cavernous spaces held within her sparsely populated folk songs.
Produced by Spencer Radcliffe, My Heart Is An Open Field has the same bucolic nature often found in his own work. Similar to Big Thief’s Two Hands from 2019, these are songs of the earth with a history all to themselves. Not so much written, as excavated from the soil and brought to life. Whether accompanying the crop-dusting of sax on Hair Sticks, or the teary-eyed twinkle of acoustic guitar on No Wings, Shoman’s voice whispers through forgotten winds, longing for a pastoral existence where horizons know no shadows.
As ruggedly bowed strings oscillate on the slow procession of Blue Spring – with ‘Cheeks wet again’ – Shoman fights to find the promise of the changing of the seasons. (‘If spring is green / Then I am blue’.) It will be a hard-won battle, but one she plans to stick around and fight (‘I’m good I’m here’).
On My Heart Is An Open Field, Shoman has produced a country record which shelters under a darkening sky. Navigating a maze of echoes and shadows, she captures the fleeting feelings and moments that make up a life. Hers are tales of bleeding hearts not easily stemmed, and scars that will last a lifetime. But amidst it all, as in life, there are moments of hope and tenderness to be relished. As the click-clack beat of Joy 2 chimes in, Shoman remains as committed as ever to unearthing them. She knows there is joy to be found – ‘I’m gonna find you / Here and there’ – she plans to go out and seize it.