Tupelo’s four song teaser E.P, ‘Ballerina’s Call’ is sure to offend just about no one. It’s the musical equivalent of Father Ted’s Eoin McLove, or an oversized jumper knitted by your ‘nan’. That’s not to say that Tupelo have missed their mark, nor does it say that they don’t know how to play their motley crew of instruments.
What it does say however, is that the band are more content being played over the ‘wireless’ then being blared into a small room full of sweaty, over-sexualized youths. It’s a perfectly legitimate road to go down, but one which might see ‘Ballerina’s Call’ lost on a generation hungry for sex, drugs and all things exciting.
The title track, Ballerina’s Call begins with jumpy down-stroked guitar and a forced American inflection on the singer’s voice. The song’s linear pattern rises and lowers in pitch as you might expect a straight folk song to. The fiddle which features following the lyrically bland chorus is soft in tone and acts as the only respite from a sea of pastiche and mediocre Bruce Springsteen idolization.
The song’s lyrical narrative, which is a staple of all good folk, is pretty shallow and lacking in any real meaning. The supposedly uplifting story of a ballerina who suffers from mild depression when not dancing isn’t as metaphorically interesting or as endearing as the band may have originally thought.
The second track Patagonia falls prey to the same lyrical problems, lines like ‘A blanket of snow will smother you just like your mamma did’ don’t manage to evoke the nostalgic, comforting image that the band would hope. Rather it brings up images of a survivor from the movie ‘Alive’ with an abusive childhood.
The jaunty guitar, bass and banjo is upbeat and relaxed, but refuses to deviate from the tried and tested conventions of ‘upbeat and relaxed’ country. It will neither make you want to visit Patagonia nor make you care where it was, even if you are told it’s on the ‘tip of South America’.
Then comes the comforting, yet persistently familiar banjo tones of Old County. Thankfully this song moves away from the sickly sweet major key of the first two tracks. The soft spoken lyrics are this time slightly more intriguing, and the bluesy feel of the song is complimented by a conventional, but nonetheless satisfying, fiddle solo.
A quiet banjo refrain builds to a climax of what sounds to be uillean pipes, and marks the best part of the album. The song is drenched in traditional instrumentation and manages to stay within the boundaries of folk music, without venturing into the stagnant world of ‘pop folk’.
Sadly the album reverts back again to a tired mesh of country, pop and terrible lyrics with their closing track When the Night Falls. The repetition of the line, ‘when the night falls’ only hammers home the band’s inability to craft a solid, meaningful song and stands in glaring contrast to the competent playing by the band.
The line is flat and manages to turn what would have been a solid vocal performance into an audition for a terrible ‘naughties’ RTÉ talent competition. The type of song Bláthnaid Ní Chofaigh would adore, thus making it one you should avoid.
Tupelo have effectively thrown their lot in with a sub-section of the music industry where everyone still buys album; where the weather can be described as ‘fierce mild’; and where bedtime comes after the Late Late show. That said, is it the case that Ballerina’s Call might actually make some money, and that they’ll wrangle a large lemming like fan base? The answer is yes, they probably will.