The Felice Brothers have released albums or EPs regularly, almost yearly, since their debut in 2007. Originally featuring three Felices, they have more recently just been two, supported by regular sideman to fill out the sound. Originally from upstate New York, the Catskills, the Felice Brothers are a recognised name in the broad Americana church of rootsy folk-rock. One of the bands you might have heard of but not heard. As a support act, not a headliner.
So I was intrigued when their latest offering tantalisingly appeared in my inbox. Always nice to hear something new, especially something by someone vaguely familiar, if not confused by the Brothers tag. Is it Felice or Pernice? Both work. Haven’t heard either band, to my knowledge.
This offering, Undress, purports to be a more externally focused, political set of songs.
“There is a collision of disparate elements at the centre of the songs that is meant to reflect the disordered conditions of our time,” says Ian Felice. A move from private to public concerns.
This puts me a little on the back foot. It’s been three years of populist Republicanism, and most musicians I am familiar with have almost moved on from the emotional angst of 2016 when the unimaginable was elected. These days the mood seems to be more “we’ll get through this” as opposed to just waking up to the horror. Do we really need another political album? Or do we just need another election?
And so it turns out, Undress offers a bunch of pleasant songs by competent songwriters and accomplished musicians, but nothing which stands out... nothing which will change the world.
I don’t want to be too negative because there are a bunch of nice ballads on the album. Holy Weight Champ has a bluesy feel and a familiar guitar pluck as it addresses inequality; TV Mama is another nice song but the lyrics, as per most of the album, are somewhat bland, been done before. The Kid could be about Billy, but more likely another troubled veteran whose plight is a political disgrace, not a consequence of man’s inhumanity to man.
There are a number of rockier songs on the album but then the production fails the band with over-laden horn sections that take the folk out of rock and make it very middle-of-the-roadish.
Hometown Hero with its light banjo intro and smokey lyric, bringing in the accordion as it builds, is as good a song as it gets, yes, these guys are competent, but not earth-shattering.
Socrates, the final track, reflects a work by San Francisco Renaissance poet Jack Spicer and builds nicely to a concluding crescendo. Poor Blind Birds, another stand-out track, despite the platitudinous intro (‘we live in a world we can’t understand) has a literary connection to another poet, William Bronk. This is better.
The outstanding track is Nail It On The First Try, less than two minutes of pure pathos. But it’s about suicide.
Sadly, the overall impression is one of platitudes. Blandness of lyric around a staple Americana formula e.g Days of the Years (“these are the days of the years of my life”.) Yeah right!! And shades of overproduction to make up for an effort which just passes muster.
Undress is sure to please fans of The Felice Brothers but unlikely to get them many new ones.
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Released: 04 May 2019