Houston Music

Chalee Tennison

If you've ever wondered what would happen if a young Loretta Lynn or Tammy Wynette were to arrive on Music Row today, songs in hand and kids in tow, Chalee Tennison's This Woman's Heart offers a clue. It scarcely needs to be mentioned that it isn't a particularly pleasant sight.

Tennison owns a bio that any credibility-starved alt-country act would trade its vintage Dodge truck to possess. First off, she's from Texas, the Freeport area, to be a little more exact. Second, she comes from a big family -- ten siblings and half-siblings, along with 162(!) first cousins. From there her life gets only more Wynettian.

Tennison finished high school at 17, but only after having a child, getting married and taking up residence in the first of many trailer parks. Then came the first divorce and the second marriage and baby. Then followed the second divorce and the third marriage and baby. Then came the third and last divorce. While repeated trips to the altar are not uncommon, it is unusual to have a trio of failed marriages under your belt before age 28 -- as Tennison did.

Before she signed her Nashville contract, the plum on her résumé was a stint as a prison guard at the Gatesville pen near Waco. That's as country as a Wal-Mart check-cashing card.

Unfortunately her bio doesn't translate into eternal music. There's nothing wrong with Tennison's voice, although it does sound a little too close to Reba McEntire's to be distinctive. It's the Nashville-ness of the project that lets her down -- the mewling (as opposed to crying) steel guitars, the schmaltzy piano noodlings, the whole sterile Music Row session player A-list "polished turd" syndrome. Further, Asylum called in a bevy of Nashville's same ole same ole tunesmiths to co-write with Tennison, no doubt in hopes of filing down anything edgy. As a result, the lyrics generally sound more like clippings from Chicken Soup for the Trailer Park Soul than the real broth that Parton, Wynette and Lynn dished out.

All of this is an attempt -- and the press kit is quite clear about this -- to position Tennison as a country everywoman. With the life that she has led, one expects more. There are hints that she has it in her, such as on "We Don't Have to Pray," which is the sort of sentimental ballad that either will make you cry or will turn your stomach, depending on your cynicism level. Coming from some suburban-mall country queen, one might lean toward the latter, but coming from Tennison, one is inclined toward the teary option. But moments like that are much too few and far between.

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John Nova Lomax
Contact: John Nova Lomax