Review Summary: Possibly the best album of the last 10 years...
The Felice Brothers have come an awful long way since playing New York subway stations, but if this site is anything to go by, they still lack the acclaim and the recognition they really deserve; this album has never even been reviewed! I couldn’t bear the thought that possibly the best album of the last 10 years went unreviewed, so here is my ridiculously positive ode to masterpiece that is ‘The Felice Brothers’.
The album slowly comes into being with the tender ballad ‘Little Ann’, a beautiful acoustic song with piano and organ caressing the fantastic lyrics of Ian Felice. Already the band have gotten you by the tear ducts as he hums ‘Little Ann, Little Ann, let that stormy weather go from your front door to the heart she covered’ only to be followed by a simple but effective harmonica solo. An excellent start to an excellent album and the following song ‘Greatest Show on Earth’ is ever better! After a playful piano intro, the other instruments enter and the song slows and becomes more sinister, with piano driving the song accompanied by minimalist guitar and drums. As Ian sings ‘Put a pistol in my pants cause’ we’re going out to dance’ with brass giving the song further depth, a listener cannot help but be enticed. The real forte of this album is the incredible lyrics, and this song’s a prime example of this as he quips ‘Is that your daughter Mr. Kissinger? Better keep an eye on her, she’s been looking me up and down’ before bursting into a cheerful trumpet filled chorus as he shouts ‘ohhh happy days are here!’. A fantastic starting duo of songs, and the following song is again immense. The affectionate accordion of ‘Frankie’s Gun!’ wafts through the speakers and the listener can’t help but sway as the acoustic guitar and drums round the song off. With another example of fantastic lyrics, this is definitely a sing-a-long track, as the whole band chant ‘he shot me down Lucille’ and ‘Sha le la sha le la’ pleading for the audience to chant with them. Possibly the most accessible song on the album, and the lead single, even this is about someone being shot and other sinister occurrences, like ‘I saw a man hit my mom one time, really. I hurt him so damn bad I had to hide in Jersey’. The grimy, bare bones lyrics are a breath of fresh air, at least to Britain, as most songs that make it on to the radio nowadays are either about a club or a girl in a club. So hats off to the Felice Brothers who continuously satisfy with their brutally honest and grim outlook on American life.
The grimy lyrics and completely grim but plausible situations are ever-present in ‘Don’t Wake the Scarecrow’ than in any other song on the album. The track kicks in with snare-rolls on the drums and foreboding guitar, which leads in to some heart-warming gentle acoustic guitar and a beautiful vocal melody. Although I could waffle on for hours about the lush instrumentation resplendent with organ and such, it would be pointless, as the real brilliance of this song is the incredible, tear-jerking lyrics. A full story that I am yet to confidently fathom, the continuous lyrics make you hang in his every word as he sings pleasantly ‘The man cries “Who gives a damn when a tramp dies?” But I loved you there in the lamp light with your bare thighs and the halo of your hair line. And all my lifelong, I’ll never shake off you’re siren song, and all of your talk about dying young with an iron lung’. Honestly, I could probably delete this review and just copy and paste the lyrics to that song and it would do the album more justice. It’s a lyrical masterpiece, and you don’t have a soul if you aren’t at least a little moved as he sings ‘Simon, I think I might stay here with Scarecrow tonight’. Just fantastic.
After that dense, depressing but incredible elegy, the album takes an atmospheric U-turn with the jolly and uplifting ‘Take This Bread’, a happy song driven by brass and piano as the band chant ‘Take this bread if you need it friend, cause’ I’m alright if you’re alright’. After the emotional torment of the last track, this song really puts a much-needed smile on your face, as you can really feel the sincerity in it after the awkwardly beautiful phone message it begins with.
To be honest, I could write 20 pages on each and every song on this album, as each and every song is brilliant. Even at 60+ minutes long, there is no filler, and each song feels as if it’s been attended to with the same love and care as the next, and I could rant about the gentle ‘Saint Stephen’s End’ as he murmurs ‘Did you hear about St. Peter’s crown? How they crucified him upside down’ or the playful piano noodlings of ‘Love Me Tenderly’ or the sinister ‘Helen Fry’, but I’ll finish this review rather appropriately at the end, with the last track ‘Tip Your Way’, an organ fuelled ballad attended by what sounds like stomping with the sound of money. This song is the perfect way to end a sensational album as after a long experience of different extreme emotions, this acts as the perfect catharsis as he sings ‘Tip your way into heaven’s gate’. Eventually, its blooms into a sing-a-long with brass chirping over the top, and it’s incredible that you find yourself uplifted and smiling as he says ‘Tip the ol’ prison priest, he ain’t slept in weeks’.
This album is a masterpiece. Every song is brilliant in its own right without exception, and they feel like they’ve come from people who really care about their music, as each if filled with sincerity. I can’t believe the lack of recognition this stunning album is getting, and even if the folk & country genre puts you off, it’s accessible to everyone. A heart-warming, stomach churning, tear-jerking experience, through and through.
TOP TRACK: Don’t Wake the Scarecrow