Tawny Newsome & Bethany Thomas
Fine Alpinist Records
Tawny and Bethany are multitalented actors, comedians and musicians. They came up acting with various theater companies, doing improv with Second City and singing back-up for bar bands in dives all over Chicago. I became aware of the pair when they shared lead vocals in Jon Langford’s Four Lost Souls. Since then, Bethany has released a solo album and Tawny is acting in Space Force and Star Trek, Lower Decks. Material Flats came about quickly this summer when Tawny and Bethany got together in the California desert and laid down everything in a three-week burst of creativity.
Material Flats is a kick ass rock and roll album. “White Balloon” opens the album channeling Dreamboat Annie -era Heart. “Time to Rewrite” pulses with plucky rhythms and contemplates making needed changes. “Dinosaur” has a folk rock feel that could fit in a Four Lost Souls set. “Bubbly” is a fun, New Wave dance party to help celebrate life’s little victories.
The feistiest song on Material Flats is the defiant manifesto, “Juneteenth 2020.” The song was inspired by the June 19th Trump rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Bethany was rightly offended by the President choosing the site of one of the most destructive attacks on a Black community (the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre) on Juneteenth (a celebration of emancipation). Over churning guitar Tawny and Bethany chant/sing about understanding their heritage and defiantly proclaiming, “I am the most American motherfucker you’ve ever seen.” The song comes to a climax with Tawny shouting, “This land is my land!” over Bethany’s repeating, “wherever I go it’s still so far.” Part of the frustration being vented is that we still have to explain what Juneteenth is in 2020. “Carry Something” closes the record on an optimistic note. Tawny and Bethany ask, “Can I come down and help? I’m way over here but I can see your struggling honey. Can I come down and help it sure looks heavy.” Ted Leo joins singing “How can I make the day better for you? I’ll gather materials, anything you need, you got it. What can I do to give you a hand? Shredding guitar solos from Leo separates the verses. The voices speak to people’s best instincts while the guitar embodies the struggle. All of us can use help sometimes. We should all be willing to help when we can.