By Diamond Marie Pedroza
Tele Novella is a multi-genre band from Lockhart, Texas. They describe their February 2021 sophomore album, Merlynn Belle, as having “coin-operated medieval pop songs through a 1950s western lens.” Somehow, this description is spot on.
Lead singer and songwriter, Natalie Ribbons, employs poetic lyricism to tackle the many different storylines she explores throughout the album. Her occasional crooning provides an extra raw emotional benefit to many of Merlynn Belle‘s songs.
The album immediately gives off Angel Olsen vibes, a singer-songwriter who relies on raw and emotional performative vocal usage, that reappear throughout the album. The elegant simplicity of the guitar helps the first song, “Words That Stay,” paint a picturesque journey of a western traveler.
After this dazzling beginning, “It Won’t be Long” uses a simple background beat to accompany Ribbons’ vocals in a cowboy style sing along. It is a song that makes you feel like you are singing with a group of friends in the desert.
“Never” offers a softer transition with a comforting bass. The song seems to be about trying to comfort someone who is at an emotionally low point.
The whistling that starts “Wishing Shrine” sets a tone for a very cowboy-like sound and atmosphere. A wavy retro guitar perfectly accentuates Ribbons’ storytelling, which describes the journey of a couple writing down their dreams to a shrine.
Tele Novella’s 1950s meets medieval sound is perhaps strongest in “One Little Pearl.” It is very acoustic but gets a little eerie as Ribbons’ story grows darker.
The song that stands out most is “Paper Crown.” It starts simple with a small beat that gets louder for its folk-rock sounding choruses. I found myself stepping away from this song and humming, “I’m sure to find love wherever I go,” which is the last line in the song.
In “A Lot to Want,” the strums of the acoustic guitar align with Ribbons’ dark vocals and feel like Tele Novella is creating a modern Connie Converse, a folk singer from the 1950s. “A Lot to Want” is filled with meaningful bittersweet storytelling most indicative when Ribbons sings, “you’re a picture taken down/there’s only a dark spot where the picture was once found.”
The somewhat haunting intro for “Crystal Witch” helps to prepare listeners for a sinister story about a child’s interaction with a witch. A surprising accompaniment of an electric guitar follows Ribbons throughout the song.
In “Desiree,” Ribbons takes the form of a man singing about Desiree, a girl he once loved. The narrator makes this known when he says, “for years I did not lock the door/but you’re not welcome anymore.”
“Technicolor Town” uniquely uses an eclectic assortment of instruments that contribute to all of the album’s prior songs. The multiple howls from Ribbons are striking points in the final wonderful song off Merlynn Belle.
The ten songs that make up Merlynn Belle are surprising, complex and beautiful. I highly recommend taking the time to listen to the entire album in one sitting.
Tele Novella held their first socially distant show in March 2021. Though they haven’t released a tour schedule, hopefully they will one day tour to promote Merlynn Belle.
Here are Tele Novella’s links:
Featured image courtesy of Tele Novella.