Gary Raymond reviews the debut album from folk duo Tapestri, Tell Me World.
Looking at the recent slow creep of country music and the NFL, in the theatre of cultural hegemony, it seems America has saved the worst ‘til last. As a growing number of Brits acclimatise to the brainwashing of television commercials with a bit of sport cut in, so they have now begun to discern nuance in a thousand and one songs that are exactly the same. Country music used to be something we laughed at America for. The hairdos, the spangles, the men who reckoned their dogs more than their gals. It used to be a place where we could find entertainment in the song titles (“If My Nose was Full of Nickels, I’d Blow it all On You”, “If I Said You Had a Beautiful Body, Would You Hold It Against Me?”) and occasionally spot punk attitudes in the Outlaw outliers. Johnny Cash was a crossover artist to some, rabblerousing high security guests of the federal government, driving himself to the edge with amphetamines, and then seeing out his twilight years doing morbidly monochrome cover versions of U2 and Simon and Garfunkel. Willie Nelson, another outlaw, produced albums like Red Headed Stranger (1975) that stand as good as anything any American artist put out in the 70s. Kris Kristofferson played Billy the Kid, and Dolly Parton even proved she had a “Joleen” in her. But these are not the norm. Over here, “Americana” became a label for people who liked American country with more of an indy get-up. Bands like Whiskeytown and Calexico made us all forget about anything approaching Travis Tritt or Kenny Rogers. Ryan Adams (when he was cool) was the new Bob Dylan and Heartbreaker was his Freewheelin’. We’d all found a happy medium.
And it’s the term “Americana” that’s used for the debut album from Tapestri, the new Welsh folk duo making waves on the roots music scene this year. That would be all very well, were it not for the fact they sound just a bit country when they’re not sounding just a lot folk. Lowri Evans and Sarah Zyborska, two solo folk artists who met whilst on the same bill at a French folk festival a while back and hit it off, suggest a crossover album of two artists interested in both celtic and American folk traditions, and the flavours do indeed borrow from those two rich seams. But in the end what Tell the World is an album of smoothly-produced, beautifully sung, middle-of-the-road Americana songs that fail to light up to the tune of their promise. This is an album that threatens to take off, but never does.
On display, though, is enough to make Tell Me World a missed opportunity – and, inevitably, giving us hope for the future – rather than a forgettable tilt at the stars. There is grit in the vocal, reminiscent of the outlaw attitudes so much of the country that’s taking off over here could do with. And lyrically, Evans and Zyborska have some scores to settle and some points to make (if only they made them with more lyricism and less fudge – this is a world of clear demarcation zones, as in the most tired country music, the “wife”, the “lover”, the “mother”, and these often appear dutiful roles to be undertaken before a life of emancipation can begin).
A big sell of the album is the conjoining of vocal talents, and I don’t know if Tapestri would find it a compliment that I found more of the BeeGees than CSNY in their sound – I certainly mean it as one. The title track is the opener, and it is also the high point. It has a Peggy Seeger-edge to it, a meandering sharpness, and Evans and Zyborska sound intense. But after that the song-writing slips and even when the lyrics work the music-writing doesn’t quite match up. “Come Alive” has a beautiful lethargy to it, and “Crazy, Crazy Times” has a good energy, but in the end not much sticks. Tell Me World is an album of important themes – empowerment of women, domestic abuse, the gender divide – that doesn’t quite have the compositional verve to do the musicianship and the vocals justice.
Tell Me World, by Tapestri is available to buy, or download, now.