Welsh duo Tapestri offer an enticingly different take on country, with a lovingly crafted offering. Cymrucana, no less.
Release date: 24th March 2023
Label: Shimi Records
Format: CD / digital
Cymrucana, eh? Not guilty, honest, this being one of this new duo’s taglines, and this their full-length debut. Formed by Lowri Evans, a Welsh singer-songwriter active for nigh on a decade, adept in songs in both Welsh and English, and Sarah Zyborska, aka Sera, who has been performing near as long. Meeting at a French festival, their common heritage prompted this project, with an earlier, limited release EP last Summer, mainly for festival merch tables. So, I get the Cymru, why the ‘cana, with the answer being that most of these songs are steeped in a transatlantic rural country ambience. Definitely not Nashville, more mountain-based music, or even Canadian country, like the McGarrigles, a clear reference point. I can also hear echoes of the Band, themselves too largely Canadian, if mainly in the full band arrangements, with guitar and keybords upfront. A fair bit of steel too, but they keep you waiting for it.
Opener and title track is positively Everly Sisters, acoustic guitar, piano and their buoyant harmonies. It is only as you concentrate that you pick up that this is a song about domestic abuse or just plain abuse as it is more rightly called. With lyrics from the point of view of the trapped victim, unable to conceive a way out. Quite chilling, but as the rest of the band kick in, the mood is, ultimately, of hope and of starting anew. Gulp, with then another song that tackles gender inequality, this is no lightweight fare. With a piano-led chapel feel to it, if there is such a thing as Welsh gospel, this is it. And it is good, the organ quietly pealing in, with acoustic bass. Two songs then add steel, the subject matters no more easy to countenance. The first, Save Your Love, has exquisitely weeping steel, courtesy David Hartley, and is advice for someone to save their love for someone able to give it back, and Crazy, Crazy Times, about how we demean the realities of difficult times by trivialising them as ‘crazy’. Each of these sound as if the band have been bussed in from America, it then coming as a surprise they are homegrown, so authentic is the sound, the second being quiite Dolly-esque. Lee Mason is the bandleader and, with Evans, co-producer, he previously having worked consistently with her, as well as having a solo career and a finger in vrious Welsh bands. No less than Henry Priestman appears on organ, which came as some surprise.
Workshop is a quieter acoustic song, reminiscent of Fleetwood Mac, Stevie Nicks era, in their mellower moments. Landslide, perhaps. By now this disc has its hooks in. She’s A Lover is another song that could be Dolly Parton, if, this time, suffering a little from having both her strength of delivery and also a drift into saccharine sentimentality. Let’s concentrate on the former. Come Alive brings back the rhythm section, Jake Newman and Dave Walsh, and is a pandemic, or post-pandemic song with a stylistic debt to Nanci Griffith. Mason’s guitar makes for an effective foil against their pitch-perfect harmonies. (There are moments when one, maybe both, sing alone, but I would find it hard to discern which is which, without a greater knowledge of respective back catalogues.)
Swapping to Welsh, Y Fflam, with slide guitar and piano, offers a hint of, of all sources, early post-Syd Floyd, and it is lovely. It’s about taking risks, specifically the risk of falling in love. The shuffling drumbeat gives a country focus to the psychedelic whimsy otherwise of the arrangement. Genes is another acoustic ballad, with fingerpicked guitar and steel, a play on genes and jeans, and is dedicated to Evans’ daughter, born during the genesis of this project. This just leaves only the second Welsh language song, Atgofion. If like me you are familiar with the slightly confusing Welsh concept of Hiraeth, or, loosely, very loosely, longing, this endeavours to explain it. By describing the feeling in the heart of Zyborska’s great-aunt, emigrating to the US in the 1940s, and never to return. In a language I neither understand, mind, but, hey, it is still a statuesque finale, double-tracked cooing bvs around their shared vocal, piano laying the foundations and the steel glistening, over a solid and uncluttered beat. The best kept to last in fact, making this recording all well worth any detour to bandcamp. They are touring Wales now and in the near future; let’s hope they can soon climb Offa’s Dyke and catch a bigger audience.
For a taste of their style, try this wonderful live version, stripped right back, of Y Fflam, recorded by S4C, just the pair of them, with Mason on bass. (For reference, it is Evans on guitar, Zyborska on piano.)