The Felice Brothers Life in the Dark
Published Jun 24, 2016The Felice Brothers seem to be critical un-darlings, or maybe just around these parts (they fare better across the pond). Ten albums in, the Catskill folk-rockers are often portrayed as populist Dylan and the Band imitators — perhaps that's what you get for having a lot of lyrics, recording on a farm and singing that way.
Life in the Dark, the band's first since 2014's Favorite Waitress, was self-produced and recorded in a garage on a farm in upstate New York. It's loose to the point of sloppy sometimes (especially the ramshackle drumming). On scrappy earworm of an opener "Aerosol Ball," Ian Felice seems indebted to Woody Guthrie (by way of Dylan) — the kind of nonsensical, quick rhythmic pull of the piece — and I can hear echoes of Guthrie's writing in the political "Plunder" and on the bonus track "Chain," too.
But the prevalent mood of Life In The Dark is rainy day music, obliquely referencing dark times in America through often-satirical character songs. Rain permeates a number of the tracks, even on standout "Triumph73," which is about motorcycles and freedom, as the speaker rides off in the wind and the rain. The Felice Brothers' songs are often the stuff of clichés (motorcycles, freedom, the bandit queen Diamond Bell) but they work because the band can play very sensitively. You just have to listen to the title track or the closing lament "Sell The House" to hear that.
The Felice Brothers' wheezy accordion, guitar and fiddle folk punk is often laced with zydeco; the instrumental "Sally!" sounds a little like an Acadian kitchen party. One gets the sense that live, this band might be all about dancing. They might be populist, like our Strumbellas, but these guys are keeping it folky. (Yep Roc)