Small quibbles aside, Love, Heartbreak, & Everything in Between is a fairly solid offering from Tenille Arts.
Albums released in either December or January usually signal one of two things – the record label promoting the album either doesn’t have much faith in their signed artist, or simply don’t know how to properly market them.
With Tenille Arts, it’s a bit of a curious case. She’s a Saskatchewan native who’s been kicking around Nashville for a couple of years, though it hasn’t resulted in much beyond an EP and album release. And whether country radio’s allergic reaction to female artists has or hasn’t plagued Arts’ run thus far is pure speculation, but it does say something when listeners are more likely to know her from “The Bachelor” than they are from her singles. Regardless, she’s garnered enough groundswell support to catch the attention of Reviver Records, and while the release of her newest album, Love, Heartbreak, & Everything in Between scans as a “let’s throw something against the wall and hope it sticks” sort of situation, in this otherwise “dead” period of new releases, it may just be the perfect excuse to dig into a promising new artist.
The idea behind Love, Heartbreak, & Everything in Between was originally conceived as a concept of three separate EPs spanning the three phases of a relationship (spelled out in the title of the album, in other words), and while there’s a somewhat newfound fascination behind marketing breakthrough EPs over albums (for whatever reason), this is unarguably the better route to go with Arts’ work. This isn’t a concept album by any means, but it is a promising pop-country effort that’s an overall enjoyable listen.
If a ‘90s country revival is all the rage right now, Arts is somewhat recalling an earlier time period herself, albeit the country music of the 2000s; where the sound was organically produced, yet still carried a polished tone. Not to say the electronic elements permeating this album don’t get overbearing at points, but they feel noticeably restrained in comparison with the instrumentation, which is often balanced out with rich-sounding piano, pedal steel and dobro for accent marks; and when they do show up, it’s usually to cultivate a sense of atmosphere to help the melodies soar a bit easier anyway. And – surprise, surprise – a pop-country sound leaning more toward an organic foundation rather than heavy synthetic elements and drum machines works far better.
With that said, I do wish this record had a bit more consistency in this regard. I get it, these are songs still courting for 2020 country radio airplay; but that doesn’t mean the songs have to constantly shift between drum machines and real drums, like on “Somebody Like That” or “Butterfly Effect.” Still, these are minor quibbles, and the record’s only real misstep is “Wouldn’t You Like To Know,” which tries to hone in some meatier swagger with the bass and organ lines; but with this production style, they feel too thin to come across with any sort of real muscle, though that’s not the song’s only problem. This “boyfriend country” trend doesn’t need any more encouragement, after all.
As for what else the production gets right, though, the melodic compositions hit the right sweet spot for this sound and style: a tight melodic focus using clean yet textured tones to gently support Arts’ voice and never overwhelm her. And then there’s the little moments, like the gentle, rollicking shimmer of “Wild Love,” the bright optimism circulating around the tones of “Somebody Like That,” or the subtle, melancholic balance of the various instrumental tones on “Nothing To See Here,” “Call You Names” or especially “Right Guy Wrong Time.”
Vocally, Arts possesses a strong, naturally pleasing voice perfectly suited for this material, with a lot of raw, earnest charisma shining through. With that said, she has a tendency to elongate certain syllables at points (the most notable example coming through on “Call You Names”), and her flow as a vocalist can be a bit choppy and uneven. But there’s also a cool confidence to a lot of the sentiments shared here, which mostly deal with her either working through the throes of a breakup or finding the courage to start anew with that cycle. No, nothing here is particularly novel in that regard, but there is a level of detail to the writing that elevates it to a surprisingly thoughtful, deep listen.
Again, this isn’t a concept album in the traditional sense, but it is easy to detect a thematic progression here, if not in the general scope of the album then certainly in the songs themselves. The love songs capture a younger, more naive perspective; the tales of heartbreak come with an added sense of reflection; and everything “in between” finds Arts maturing with her material in the current day. As for the first category, the atmospheric touches certainly help aforementioned tracks like “Wild Love” and “Butterfly Effect,” though it’s tracks like “Nothing To See Here,” “Another Life” and “Right Guy Wrong Time” that stand as the best songs here, where Arts’ broken, battered reflections come with her questioning her own roles in the situations and realizing that the blame isn’t always easy to assign. And as for as how those lessons learned have shaped her current outlook, “Call You Names” is perhaps the most blunt example, but there’s also enough bright, shimmering optimism in “Somebody Like That” and “Missing You” to insinuate it’s all going to be alright.
Sadly, Love, Heartbreak, & Everything in Between ends with its two worst tracks, with “Everybody Knows Everybody” not having enough personality to be anything more than a checklist-ode to small towns. I’d also say that, while the melodies are fantastic, the hooks do fall a bit flat, which isn’t good for this sound and style. And if Arts carries a bit of an awkward flow at points, vocally, it’s not helped by the tempos feeling a bit rushed at other points.
But what Love, Heartbreak, & Everything in Between does right, more than anything, is solidify enough reasons to consider Arts a promising new force in mainstream country music. The production quality is mostly on-point, the writing is a fair bit smarter than what may initially meet the eye (ear?), and Arts has enough charisma to stand as a unique personality. Again, I’m not sure what it says when a record label releases an album in a dead period with little buzz behind it, especially for a relatively new artist, but I know I’d like to hear more from Arts.
- Favorite tracks: “Right Guy Wrong Time,” “Nothing To See Here,” “Somebody Like That,” “Call You Names,” “Wild Love”
- Least favorite track: “Wouldn’t You Like To Know”