The fusing together of two different ideas has led to some great advancements in human history. The fusion of copper and tin all those years ago, for example, gave us bronze and a better way to fight off those pesky sabre-toothed tigers. The fusion of the ideas of space and time by Einstein gave us relativity. The fusion of Red Bull and Jagermeister gave us a horrendous hangover.
Dublin-based Tupelo give us a healthy dose of Americana, gently infused with some Irish trad sensibilities. The problem is that when it is put together on ‘Push On’, their second album, the resultant mixture ends up a bit of a mess.
It all starts so promisingly with Old Country. The epic pounding of the drums in the opening make it feel like Johnny Cash’s God’s Gonna Cut You Down until the fiddle cuts across the sound. It’s powerful and eventful with mixtures of gospel and bluegrass working together in harmony. It’s a more thrilling mix than could really be expected.
Then, a little after three minutes in, the banjo picks up and the song goes off on a brilliant instrumental excursion, like Flogging Molly at their best. It remains grounded in trad too with nationalistic lines like “I come from the old country/the old country where the heather runs free” and “The Crown is coming for all you see.”
It’s a shame that the ‘Push On’ doesn’t push on with a similar line of song for the rest of the album. Instead, it takes an immediate sidestep in terms of subject matter to Ballerina’s Call. The song itself also sounds a bit procedural and suffers from a few lyrical miscues. The inane refrain of “Which way will she go?/I don’t know, I don’t know” is just one example.
The lyrics seem to miss more on ‘Push On’ than they hit. There are strange similes like “Those blankets of snow will smother you just like your mother did” on Patagonia; a song whose cheerful melody is totally at odds with the story of harsh, desolate landscape the lyrics describe.
There are a handful of missed rhymes too. “I hear lords in their castle order slaves to dig the ground/If that’s the price of a pauper, you can have your bloody throne” from the otherwise excellent When The Cockerel Crows is just one example of a prevalent problem on the album.
When they get things right, they produce some excellent songs. The Shifting Ground is joyous and upbeat in a Waterboys style while closing track Push On is an equally enjoyable, toe-tapping venture. Elsewhere, Roisin’s Land is a fine two act love letter to Dublin and the sorrow of those having to emigrate. It works far better than Hollow of the Hill: a track about the beauty in the Wicklow Mountains. It ends up, however, sounding like a 12 year old trying to write his own version of WB Yeats’s The Lake Isle of Innisfree.
‘Push On’ is an album with some fantastic moments, but never gives any intimation that it is going to be a fantastic album. For every moment of excitement, there tends to be equal moment of banality. There could be great things to come from Tupelo, a group of fantastically talented, inventive musicians. They just need to figure out how to fuse things just right.