Tawny Newsome and Bethany Thomas make thoughtful, soulful rock on Material Flats | Music Review | Chicago Reader

Tawny Newsome and Bethany Thomas make thoughtful, soulful rock on Material Flats 

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click to enlarge Bethany Thomas and Tawny Newsome

Bethany Thomas and Tawny Newsome

Courtesy of Grandstand Media

Tawny Newsome and Bethany Thomas became friends in the 2000s, when they put in time as backup singers for a long list of forgotten bar bands, and in 2017 they both appeared on Jon Langford’s album Four Lost Souls. But it’d be a mistake to pigeonhole them as supporting players—their soulful voices have always commanded attention rather than blending into the background. In addition to her musical career, Newsome (now based in Los Angeles) has an exhaustingly full resumé as an actor and comedian (she’s currently voicing a lead character in Star Trek: Lower Decks), while Thomas has appeared onstage at Steppenwolf and the Second City, portrayed Billie Holiday in a dinner-theater production, and fronted a David Bowie tribute band, among other things. Both women are clearly comfortable with an eclectic range of projects, but they’re not dilettantes—and their debut album as a duo, Material Flats, is out-and-out rock ’n’ roll. They throw themselves into the music like they were born to do it, and they probably were. Rather than sticking to simple harmonies or answering each other’s verses, they seamlessly weave their multi-octave voices together, in and out of different keys. Newsome and Thomas bring every one of these brooding rock songs to a simmer—even ballads such as “Pincushion” have a certain tension—and on “Juneteenth 2020,” a solemn meditation on the abolition of slavery, the music starts to boil over. The duo put their acting skills to good use during the spoken-word bits, and they’re smart enough not to get too hammy. Like all good actors and musicians, Newsome and Thomas know the value of restraint.   v

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