There are a lot of Americana acts out there. In fact, I’d even say there are too many. Countless albums by solo dudes with guitars pile into the Treble mailbox every month—some of them good, most of them decent, but few of them are truly memorable. When you already have Neko Case, M. Ward, Will Oldham, Conor Oberst, Ryan Adams, Wilco, Califone, Howe Gelb, The Drive-By Truckers, Sparklehorse and Califone, you’ve got some stiff competition for a listener’s attention, which is pretty well occupied as it is. So it takes a particularly noteworthy artist to stand apart from the mass of grizzled gents in flannel shirts with twangy sounds, and The Felice Brothers are one of very few bands in recent months to do just that.
Having self-released prior albums, and offering breakthrough Tonight at the Arizona in the UK in 2007, plus a tour-only album titled The Adventures of the Felice Brothers Vol. 1 thereafter, The Felice Brothers finally make their self-titled US debut this month on Conor Oberst’s Team Love label. The group, consisting of Simone, Ian and James, are actually brothers, with fourth member Christmas being a brother in spirit, if not genetically so. Fitting in nicely on the Team Love imprint, the band has a rootsy, Dylanesque sound, mixing up low-key folk ballads with smoky rockers and everything in between, shining through with both earnestness and an incredible sense of fun. Where so many troubadours often fall short of finding that common ground between sincerity and an old fashioned good time, The Felice Brothers, a real-deal group of salt-of-the-earth fellas from the Catskills, succeed effortlessly.
The album begins without much fanfare, kicking off the festivities with the Dylan-flavored “Little Ann,” brother Ian’s voice even sounding like Zimmy in his heyday. It isn’t until “Greatest Show on Earth” in which the band begins to kick up some dust, as the song slinks along with a sexy late nite vibe, combined with a Tom Waits-like congregation of barroom piano and French Quarter horns. That New Orleans vibe lingers in “Frankie’s Gun!” A bright and upbeat accordion forms the heart and soul of the song as Ian sings of his own violent undoing, “bang bang bang, goes Frankie’s gun/ he shot me down.” On “Goddamn You, Jim,” the group opts for a haunting and subtle approach, with slides weeping like a dusty wind blowing over the barren landscape.
Hand-clapping, honky-tonk number “Take This Bread” is a high-energy standout, Ian’s magnanimous, sing along lyrics taking cues from Woody Guthrie. Over a buoyant horn section, the group sings in unison, “I ain’t got a lot/ but what I got, you’re welcome to,” lending a neighborly hand with their sweet, sweet music. It’s that magnanimousness that makes this band so damn appealing. While their tales sometimes run from the depressing to the grim and violent, ultimately, they’ll have you raising a glass in celebration.
The Avett Brothers – Emotionalism
Billy Bragg & Wilco – Mermaid Ave., Vol. 1
Whiskeytown – Pneumonia
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.