Kill Rock Stars
Tele Novella are an indie duo comprised of Natalie Ribbons and Jason Chronis, from Austin, TX, formed in 2013 out of the ashes of several popular Austin bands. Fronted by Natalie Ribbons, whose vocals draw to mind everything from Patty LaBelle to Nancy Sinatra, they are back here with their sophomore album, Merlynn Belle. The band has long drawn on a variety of influences in creating their sound, from Brazilian tropicalia to honky tonk to the 80s Paisley Underground.
On Merlynn Belle, their first for Olympia, WA’s, legendary underground label, this mélange all comes together in a pleasing gumbo. The aesthetics of the album are, at least as I hear it, rooted in the honky tonks of the South, stripped down to a minimalist, sultry feel, rooted in Ribbons’ vocals. In a lot of ways, it feels this album was created from the vocals backwards, as Ribbons and Chronis attempted to find the proper backing for her vocals.
Album opener, ‘Words That Stay,’ is the manifesto, Ribbons’ beautiful vocals, the music rooted in 60s country, flamenco-esque guitar and percussion. Ribbons sings ‘You can be strong/When there’s no gravity,’ as the song roots around in the idea of self-worth and self-esteem.
‘Wishing Shrine’ emerges out of a spaghetti-Western aesthetic, as Ribbons sings about a road trip to see an old friend, her former neighbour: ‘It was good to see your books/And smell your perfume/It was good to see/your pictures on the walls.’ The song tells the story of this visit, a nocturnal visit to a church, a wishing shrine in a clay church in the desert. The way in which she paints a picture of this trip is so evocative, I can imagine the desert highway, the clay adobe churches of New Mexico, the heat rising off the roads, the coolness of desert nights.
Album closer, ‘Technicolor Town,’ is a pleasant little rambler over a drum machine beat and a lazy acoustic guitar riff, accompanied by a video with she and Chronis dressed up as French mimes, making their away around town to the movies.
On Merlynn Belle, Tele Novella have given us an album to settle into, to curl up into, to stretch out to, perhaps with a fire to keep you warm.