Tupelo, a Dublin act that has performed on the Irish-American fest circuit, has downsized and upgraded.
By Colleen Taylor
What happens when a band is reduced to half? Well, for the good ones, the answer is simple: the band plays on. Over the past couple years, alt-folk Dublin band Tupelo have downsized from four members to two, with singer-songwriter James Cramer and fiddler Kevin Duffy still carrying the banner. Despite the downsize, the alt-folk act is still going strong, gearing up to release a new studio album, which, as chance would have it, looks like its going in a more American direction than an Irish one.
Growing up in Dublin in the late 1990s, Cramer and his friends risked heckling from pop music peers when they carried their guitars and banjos down Dublin’s streets. This risk of nonconformity paid off in 2008, however, when Cramer formed Tupelo, a name chosen in homage to Van Morrison and his 1971 `album “Tupelo Honey.” Initially, the band was made up of four members: Cramer, Duffy, Damien McMahon, and Paul Murray. Cramer said he knew Tupelo was going places almost as soon as these four starting playing. Tupelo released their first album, “Dirty Money,” independently in 2011, and the response in Ireland was uniformly positive. After some Irish playtime and gigs, the band signed up with Crash Records to re-release “Dirty Money” internationally in 2012, which resulted in even more critical acclaim. “Push On” (2014) marked the pinnacle of the band’s rootsy alt-folk Americana sound. “Push On” demonstrated sonic sophistication and good recording quality. The album comes across as a strong live show as well as a studio album. “Ballerina’s Call” is a particular standout for me: demonstrating the band’s genre mixology and upbeat melodies.
Now, in 2017, remaining members Cramer and Duffy are still making great folksy sounds. They recently released a single from their forthcoming album, entitled “Cotton to Silk.” The track is an angsty, powerful folk ballad, with some bluesy, soulful intonations. “Cotton to Silk” finishes off strong with a surprising, if brief, lively banjo instrumental—an authentic slice of an American country session. Most importantly, however, this track sounds more grown up than the songs on their previous album, “Push On.” If this single is any indication, Tupelo has turned away from focusing on sounding great and channeled their energy into expressing deeper emotional and psychological experiences. Nowadays, Cramer and Duffy sound different from the times when Tueplo was four. They come across like a more traditional, acoustic Americana band—more on par with Irish contemporaries like We Banjo 3, as opposed to the older Tupelo which was trying to sound more like the Irish rock band the Coronas. This new inspiration is a decided upgrade in my opinion. This traditional pull back sounds like the work of wiser, more experienced musicians.
Tupelo has gone in an American direction in another sense too. Not only have they turned to Americana music exclusively for their sound and inspiration, they’ve channeled their energies into American tours. The duo recently played the Chicago Irish Fest this summer, with Cramer playing a headline solo show. Last year, they also played the Michigan Festival and the Kansas City Irish Fest. Tupelo is still a Dublin music fixture as well, having recently gigged at Vicar Street. Tupelo may be halved but they are also back in business with the forthcoming album. Stay tuned for a review on that soon.