YEP ROC 17th Sept 2021
I think of The Felice Brothers as a band dedicated to ‘ragged but right’. After eight albums, their abilities are honed, their playing and writing skills honed, but they don’t like to polish. There is a line back to bands like The Band, The Velvets, Yo La Tengo, etc in this dedication to spontaneity. Hence recording this in a 150 year-old church, (other albums have been recorded in idiosyncratic venues too). Material ranges in style to bump up against the four corners of Americana – always loose, always engaging and, this time round, coloured in with additional trumpet and pedal steel.
Every recent record by anyone has been shaped in some way by social distancing. This one picks up the sense of time passing without event, immersion in everyday life and impermanence. So not that different to a normal Felice Brothers record then….. and that is no bad thing. There are melancholy songs, sad songs, gently irreverent songs. Ian Felice, their main writer, acknowledges the dark in their songs but says; “Music is a medicine. It can make our time on the planet a little more enjoyable.” Core members, Ian and James (who gets a brace of songs here) are brothers, with a shifting cast of a band. Other brother, Simone, travels his own sensitive path.
Live, they are a lot of fun, with a swinging accordion if you get lucky. Here, whilst there is definitely art and depth in the songs, the heart of them is a sharing of mood and feeling, a solidarity in middle of the night feelings and acceptance of the occasional absurdities of the world. Contradictions are drawn out and embraced, resulting in songs like ‘Valium’, with its drifting, TV-staring, pop-culture soaking, late-night sleeplessness and opener ‘Jazz On The Autobahn’. Of course, a story-song like ‘Inferno’ is laden with teenage memory, mixing life, movie stars and recollection as they wait for adult life like “worms waiting for wings”. In other words, there is plenty of arresting imagery and poetry here – why do some memories persist and are they significant?
‘Silverfish’ sounds, for a few moments like Irish songsmith, Duke Special, before the piano balladry leads us into a sequence of loose yet connected vignettes. ‘Celebrity X’, digs at the ridiculous parade of celeb gossip but instead of being a diatribe, it’s a Dylan-esque list of nonsense and a Basement Tapes -style loose vamp thumping along happily. ‘We Shall Live Again’ is an eight minute epic but not epic as in overwrought; more of a lengthy amble through thoughts, visions and ideas, alongside Hegel and Proust – a gentle walk alongside your ears to accompany you off the premises of the album.
This is album never surprising but always pleasing; a scrapbook of the best of alt-Americana and a fine addition to the canon.