The Felice Brothers
From Dreams to Dust


5.0
classic

Review

by Sowing STAFF
September 17th, 2021 | 130 replies


Release Date: 09/17/2021 | Tracklist

Review Summary: You shall live again.

To his son he leaves a cloudless sky,
One pair of ill fitting shoes
To his wife a box of undeveloped negatives
A bowl of onion soup
From dreams to dust

Death is a concept that could be perceived a thousand different ways. To many, it is the end game; the screen goes black and we are oblivious to the fact that we ever existed, even for a single moment. Some will draw immense relief from this, while others are so terrified by the thought of eternal nothingness that they'd rather burn in a mythical lake of fire just to be. The glass-half-full types might view it as the beginning of a beautiful new chapter, where we take another form either here on Earth or somewhere in the ethos. Everyone has their own version of what happens in the moments following the cessation of all brain synapses and heartbeats. For Ian Felice - the lead singer/songwriter for The Felice Brothers - the answer is quite plain, and he makes no bones about passing that philosophy on to his four year old son: "There’s no one to pray to / Because you know who made you / And you can just ask me." This is the sort of stark lyrical content one can expect to find throughout From Dreams to Dust; an album largely motivated by the blunt nature of death. Themes of finality course throughout the veins of the record, prompting Felice to question the importance of his everyday routine, ponder the end of the world, and observe the passage of time in unique and sometimes humorous ways. As these twelve songs work in unison to elucidate the meaning of the title From Dreams to Dust, listeners will come to realize that the album has less to do with "the end" - or what comes after death - as it does motivating us to live.

The impetus for such dreary and emotional content might be stemming from the death of Ian's stepfather, whom he paid tribute to on 'In Memoriam' from his 2017 solo debut In The Kingdom of Dreams. Here however, the focus is mostly turned inward. On 'Be at Rest', which features the album's title "from dreams to dust", Felice imagines his own eulogy, and it goes something like this: "Mr. Felice, 6’ 148 lbs / Soft teeth, sleep deprived, below average student / Owner of 2 ill-fitting suits." He goes on in rather hilarious self-deprecating fashion, almost a list of his own idiosyncratic flaws, and it's illustrative of how Ian is able to seamlessly weave humor into something as serious as his own demise. It's an important point to make, because for as much as From Dreams to Dust grapples with weighty existential topics, The Felice Brothers manage to maintain a deft balance between insightful and lighthearted - never oscillating too far on the pendulum to constitute something frivolous or completely grave. The approach works wonders, spellbinding listeners with the depth of Ian's seriously underrated lyrical and storytelling capabilities while also providing aloof comedy as an escape; a means of disarming the situation when things start to get too tense. It's the same defense mechanism that many of us utilize in real life when facing something as bleakly linear as death, and it feels fitting here as well. At the song's conclusion, Ian loosens up on the tongue-in-cheek self-disparagement with an uplifting set of lines: "To his son he leaves a cloudless sky...to his wife a box of undeveloped negatives", and it's almost a tear-jerking sentiment. These two things represent infinite possibilities; perhaps his own unfulfilled dreams passed on to his loved ones. In the course of just over two and a half minutes, The Felice Brothers will have you laughing and crying - and such is the nature of From Dreams to Dust.

Elsewhere, Ian spends a lot of time reflecting on what he's doing with his life now. 'To-Do List' is a song title that helps explain what might otherwise seem like a haphazard juxtaposition of thoughts: "Finish The Wealth of Nations, discover a miracle drug / Learn all supreme court justices' names, and test the limits of love." His bucket list ends up ranging from admirable ("Find out what's killing the bees"..."Rise up in the name of liberty, throw out my fascist berets") to absurd ("Buy a spinach colored dinner jacket"..."Build a maze of styrofoam"), but again the humor is surprisingly effective amid the more serious overtones. From Dreams to Dust's sense of mortal urgency is best encapsulated on 'Silverfish', where Felice - after a drawn out series of dissatisfied laments over his stagnant life, sings "A red tailed hawk ate my neighbor’s dog, just carried her away / I gotta do something." The implication is clear, and it's the driving force behind the entire album. What is a dream one day can turn to dust the next.

Even as From Dreams to Dust delves into some of the most though-provoking and important questions that anyone can ask about life or death, there's still a sense of postmodern awareness that expands the album's scope beyond the narrator's own purview. On the opener, we're led into a story between two people - Helen, the wife of a Texas oil tycoon, and a man simply known as "the sheriff" - as they argue about what the apocalypse will sound like. It's a thematic tone-setter on an album brimming with allusions to society's demise: at various times, The Felice Brothers reference rising fascism, polluted environments, "plagues", riots, and stock market crashes. No amount of fictional characters or tale-spinning can distract from the album's eerie links to the present (or the future, if we allow it) - and it frames this piece's exigency while bolstering it with context. If this becomes some sort of cult classic observed by future generations of folk connoisseurs, the link to the present setting will be identified as an undeniable influence and chief motivator behind some of the lyrical and content inclusions; casual references to cultural icons like AC/DC, Jean-Claude Van Damme, and Kurt Cobain notwithstanding. All of this is merely to say that From Dreams to Dust certainly reaches beyond its own imaginative sphere to capture the essence of what it was like to create music amid a worldwide pandemic and global political strife.

The cleverness, versatility, and magnitude of this album's concept and lyrics nearly overshadow what is also a superb album musically. From Dreams to Dust plants its feet equidistantly between country/Americana and indie-rock, excelling at setting a quaint/rustic tone which mirrors the Currier & Ives styled artwork without sounding all that much like any other artist currently making waves in those genres. Part of the credit for the pristine, pastoral acoustics goes to Ian Felice for recording this in a church that he restored himself. As for his vocal contributions, Ian sounds like a compromise between Bob Dylan and Colin Meloy, which is appropriate given the former's storytelling ability and the latter's penchant for elaborate concepts/imagery. James Felice, who also contributes vocals (not to mention piano, keyboards, and accordion) plays arguably just as important of a role, as his multi-instrumentalism is what makes it possible for From Dreams to Dust to take its elegant, rural shape. Drummer Will Lawrence shines throughout, but perhaps never brighter than on 'Money Talks', where he chimes in with a thunderous and impactful drum fill following Ian's taunt of "tick tock goes the doomsday clock." The inclusion of bassist Jesske Hume (who joined the band in 2019) sees The Felice Brothers push into some new and more elaborate territory rhythmically, while guest appearances from Mike Mogis (pedal steel) and Nate Walcott (horns) allow the band to depart into jazzier territory like 'Jazz On The Autobahn' and ''Blow Him Apart'. It's a stunning collaboration of talent, and one that results in what is, quite simply put, one of the most beautiful, poignant, and utterly unique country-folk albums that you'll hear all year.

To say that From Dreams to Dust is an expected triumph wouldn't quite be the case. The Felice Brothers have had a respectable career, especially early in their discography, but they've endured multiple lineup changes and have flirted with dissolving the group on more than one occasion - even by Ian's own admission in an interview with Rolling Stone where he stated, "It feels so ephemeral. Bands don’t last, they fall apart every day...Over the years, there have been many times where I’ve thought, 'Yeah, this is probably it'." In the face of such obstacles, this new-look outfit has just crafted the best work of the band's fifteen year lifespan. Considering all of this album's allusions to death and making the most out of life, it's fitting then that after months of social distancing and impending disbandment that they were able to rebound so strongly with this piece. It's as The Felice Brothers sing in such liberated fashion on the record's triumphant curtain call, a harmonica-laden eight minute adieu that sees the narrator's perspective from 'Be at Rest' finally altered: "We shall live again." From Dreams to Dust packs all the wit, creativity, and emotionally compelling depth that you'd expect from a band leading the country/Americana charge - until now, we just didn't know that band was The Felice Brothers.

The wind took my train up into the chasms of the sky
And in the air hung a golden trumpet
Some warn of heaven and its narrow gate
The baby angels are armed and overweight
As they float above the turnstile and sing
You shall live again, you shall live again





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user ratings (39)
3.9
excellent


Comments:Add a Comment 
Sowing
Moderator
September 17th 2021


39306 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

This will very likely be my last review for at least some time, but as usual, I'll be back.

If you felt like 2021 hasn't kept up with 2020 on the Folk/Americana/Country front, then you need to check this ASAP.

Digging: Lil Ugly Mane - Volcanic Bird Enemy...

Sunnyvale
Contributing Reviewer
September 18th 2021


2911 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Very nice review Sowing, we touched on a lot of the same points, in the end!

WatchItExplode
September 18th 2021


9337 Comments


I felt that when the songs produced an engaging narrative they were fantastic and when they were abstract and inane they did not

You two are pretty busy around here.

Digging: She Said Destroy - Succession

luci
September 18th 2021


12671 Comments


nice review, I keep forgetting it's a country album by how you analyze it. might check

NorthernSkylark
September 18th 2021


11696 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Never heard these guys before, gonna change that soon

Digging: Ex:Re - Ex:Re with 12 Ensemble

DoofDoof
September 18th 2021


10544 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Impressive review! Album is growin

DoofDoof
September 18th 2021


10544 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I guess I’ll try out one of their back catalogue each week to see what I’ve missed, really didn’t rate them beyond a few choice cuts before

theBoneyKing
September 18th 2021


20882 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

What a day, can’t say I ever expected to see a 5.0 Sowing review of a Felice Brothers album but here we are.

Digging: Neil Young - Rust Never Sleeps

NorthernSkylark
September 18th 2021


11696 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I expect a 5 from sowing every other day tbh love and all

DoofDoof
September 18th 2021


10544 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

This definitely has Boney album of the year potential I’d imagine…unless there is actually a better album in their discog you’ve checked before



I can’t imagine Yonder is the Clock or the self titled are better based on my existing ratings but maybe my tastes have changed

theBoneyKing
September 18th 2021


20882 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Sure North but as I’ve expressed in the other thread 1) imo these guys have been in declining quality for a while (last one was a 2.5 for me) and 2) I’m pretty much the only active user who’s consistently rated them in the time that I’ve been on here so I had no reason to expect this would gain any traction here.



Will be giving it a listen very soon and will give my thoughts on how it compares to the discog (though I’m missing some of their older albums).



Gonna wait to read the review until I’ve heard it as scanning this one it seems to have more “spoilers” than Sunny’s.

DoofDoof
September 18th 2021


10544 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I think I’ve worked out what held them back a bit before - they really seemed in thrall of Dylan on the self titled.



Since I rated years ago I do know and like a lot more Dylan so that’s good…but similar to The Tallest Man on Earth I don’t massively appreciate bands ‘doing a Dylan’ all the time.



This album feels its own beast, yes there are some nods to Dylan, but it just seems like one of many influences/ingredients

theBoneyKing
September 18th 2021


20882 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Try out Celebration, Florida, that’s my second favorite of theirs and is the most “out there” they’ve done. More layered and interesting production choices, some electronic influences.

DoofDoof
September 18th 2021


10544 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

That will be my next stop, then I’ll recheck self titled and Yonder

Sowing
Moderator
September 18th 2021


39306 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

I had to beat the buzzer on the Metacritic inclusion, so I just gave this the 5 it will eventually garner from me now and snuck in some quotes to bookend the review. Boney, as I told Doof in some extensive shoutbox conversations, I've been a casual Felice Brothers fan for several years, although you're probably more of an expert because you actually seem more dedicated and less "fair weather." I'm curious what you'll think, but I'm also glad to see this catching on with the crowd I was sort of expecting: Doof, Sunnyvale, etc.

theBoneyKing
September 18th 2021


20882 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Well let’s just say my hopes for this have skyrocketed in the last 24 hours because before I wasn’t even sure I was going to bother with it despite being a fan and now I have hopes it could be my second 4.5 of the year.

Sowing
Moderator
September 18th 2021


39306 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

who's that singing in the land of the falling rain?

I think it's theBoneyKing...I think it's theBoneyKing

theBoneyKing
September 18th 2021


20882 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Ok, first listen down. It’s good but I’m not blown away. Hope it grows on me. Need to focus on the lyrics.

Sowing
Moderator
September 18th 2021


39306 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

I will say that, in the amount of time I've had my hands on this, that it's a little bit of a grower. I'm not going to pretend that it will make a huge leap for everyone, but it did go from me originally thinking OK this is excellent, very solid 4/5 to where I'm at now. Lyrics were definitely key for me, or rather I should say the combination of lyrics/storytelling/themes. Without that, it could be passed off as merely a pretty and stripped down folk/Americana record. I just have such a soft spot for albums like this; quirky tale-telling with both hidden and unhidden depth, humor. This thing is gold to my ears.

NorthernSkylark
September 18th 2021


11696 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I must say that the opener is something else, it also kinda remind me of sweet jane



Jane jane jane



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