Raised in and among a community of Chattanooga musicians who helped cultivate her passion for all things folk, country and Americana that have infused her dynamic career, Teni Rane performed regularly for 15 years before unleashing the fullness of her singer/songwriter artistry as a recording artist. The title of the soulful and sensitive musical storyteller’s critically acclaimed 2020 debut EP Heart in Tennessee says it all about not only the location of the studio where it was tracked, but her musical grounding, inspiration and intention.
For her equally sparkling batch of four follow-up singles in 2022, Teni threw a fascinating thematic and geographical curveball, rooting her songs in the experience of her summer residency at Kneippbyn Resort on the beautiful Swedish island of Gotland in the Baltic Sea. Connecting with many talented musicians in the region and making herself at home despite being the proverbial fish out of water, she tracked the bilingual song of longing “Meet Me In Stockholm” and three other four winter/holiday themed tunes that she released that fall: “Cozy Inside,” “Rosemary & Evergreen” and “Tennessee Snow.”
On Teni’s latest batch of four singles releasing this fall - bundled as a single EP for review titled Goldenrod – the singer did some additional Stockholm sweetening at SteelFabriken, but she returned home to familiar territory to record the majority of the sessions at Classic Recording Studios in Bristol, TN. From the wistful, nostalgic opener (and first single release) “Goldenrod” through the gently hypnotic, deeply mystical “Cold Wind (Ghost),” the four tracks tie nicely together thematically and will be the promising foundation for Teni’s first full length album due in 2024. Helping bring her bold sonic vision to life and create the perfect vibe behind her tender yet emotionally pointed vocals and acoustic guitar is the stalwart ensemble of studio veterans, including past collaborator Roger Gustafsson (bass, steel guitar), guitarist Phil Faconti and Grammy nominated cellist Dave Eggar.
A deeply poetic spirit whose prose is as rich and compelling as her lyrics metaphoric, soul-resonating and sweetly and poignantly heartbreaking, Teni kindly provided detailed explanations of her inspiration for each piece as part of the lyrics and credit sheet. Her illuminations are fascinating, of course, but it’s just as well to leave every listener on his/he own to find connections of their own without benefit of a backstory. As you find yourself enraptured by Teni’s voice and lyrical flow, she leaves you free to make that choice – but integrating her notes into the listening experience indeed has its rewards.
Here’s an example of how this duality can work. The lyrical sway of “Goldenrod,” given haunting gravity by Eggar elongated dark-hued cello strokes, draws us into the singer’s reflective realm immediately, prompting us to ruminate over lines like “I’ve heard everything changes but I don’t think it’s true/Some things stay the same like how I think of you. . .And I see goldenrod sway as leaves tumble and play/The summer fades into fall…” We know change is inevitable, and all of us have experienced the heart-altering reality that love can remain the same for one and not for another.
We may also be aware that goldenrod are a bright yellow plant, and draw whatever metaphoric joy and sorrow we can from that. But there’s a line in her artist quote (and not in the lyrics) that is just as golden and majestic: “There is something reassuring about the waltz of a field of goldenrod in the late summer.” Couple that with her reflection on her own personal fear of change, and the song, which we can interpret universally just as easily, blossoms into a very personal reflection. Through her fear, and her sorrow over the joys of what once was but may soon be no more, we can find meaning in our own similar paths.
Hardcore foodies who equate love with the joys of sweetness and spices may enjoy the couplet in the middle of the EP of “Cinnamon” and “Caramel” (the latter being the follow-up single to the title track). Intriguingly, the word “Caramel” does not grace this soulful warm weather intimate dance which finds Teni singing sultrily about a “Full moon at night” where “I only see the ghosts of colors/That would have shimmered in the sun” and “my heart flutters in the breeze.” The only tangential reference is this intriguing gem of a line: “After the sun, it’s the sugar that burns.” Her liners discuss the gravity of fall nights, contrasting the brightness of the moon with the mystery of the lunar pull and “flash of fiery colors.” It’s all fascinating detail that once again illustrates Teni’s keen observance about the changes that are always in store, and how nature is the perfect metaphor for our own evolution.
The use of cinnamon in the song of that name (co-written with her sister Fritsl) is more literal, coming in a simple establishing line (“He likes/liked the cinnamon in her coffee”) in a fascinating heart play where the lover who is contemplating leaving is the one who is surprisingly abandoned before he can act on his shifting emotions. The gorgeous interactive dance between Teni’s most emotional, even soaring vocals and Eggar’s intense strings is almost breathtaking in its sweep. Though she is a great confessional songwriter, a tune like this showcases Teni’s talent for third person narrative storytelling and co-writing, with part of the credit going to her past performance partner and sister.
With Roger Gustaffson’s lonesome steel guitar underscoring Teni’s pluckier acoustic, the final track of the EP, “Cold Wind (Ghost)” rolls like a traditionally melancholy country/folk ballad. But in her detailed explanation, she emphasizes that the ghosts she is referring to are not deceased or lost loved ones from our past – but ghosts of our past selves who are always part of us throughout our lives. For us, a heavy duty line like “The ghost of my past she plays the memories again/My imagination’s stuck so I cannot change the end” may remind us that we have work to do, breakthroughs to make on ourselves. For the singer, though she enhances these stark, fascinating lines with a sweep of ethereal, echoing “na na na”s throughout, “Cold Wind is a journey from allowing ghosts to hold me apart from others to integrating everything that makes me who I am and leaning into love.”
The Goldenrod gathering of singles into a single EP is just four tracks totaling 15 minutes – but these will be the most emotionally and spiritually rewarding moments of the day if you take the time to listen, absorb and read.