When a band breaks up, you usually don't count on the drummer to be the one with the remarkable solo career (don't mention Dave Grohl; he's the exception that proves the rule), but with the Felice Brothers presumably a thing of the past, the group's former timekeeper Simone Felice is the one who has been stepping forward with an impressive body of work. Felice's self-titled effort of 2012 was a strong, well-crafted debut, but 2014's Strangers is the real step forward, a set of songs that updates the singer/songwriter templates of the '70s to the present day in terms of both musical approach and lyrical intelligence (though given the fact Simone wrote many of the Felice Brothers' most memorable songs and is a published novelist, that should come as no surprise). Felice's voice is a memorable instrument with a mild emotional vibrato that adds to the drama of tunes like "If You Go to LA" and "The Best That Money Can Buy," while still sounding strong and generous on poppy numbers like "Molly-O!" and more polished turns such as "Heartland.
Simone Felice’s debut album contained 10 story-songs that focused on questionable characters; murderers, arsonists, child abusers, Charlie Manson and his disciples, Courtney Love, etc. He sang his self-penned literate tropes about such folk in a smooth and subdued voice and a slow to mid-tempo rhythm. The effect was powerful, like good poetry—which is not a surprise as Felice is a published poet—but also suffered from sameness.
Simone FeliceStrangers(Dualtone)3.5 out of 5 starsStream the album Multi-instrumentalist, novelist, poet, spoken word performer, near-death survivor, touring drummer with the Avett Brothers (among others) and founder of New York City’s Felice Brothers along with The Duke & the King, Simone Felice has crammed a lot of living in his 30 something years. Not surprisingly, he has amassed some stories along the way and on his sophomore solo disc, makes up some good ones too. Felice’s smooth, whiskeyed voice, somewhat like that of Cat Stevens in his prime, is immediately both likeable and, more importantly, believable.
This latest full-length effort from Simone Felice, co-founding member of the critically lauded Felice Brothers, promises much. It follows a mixed bag of an eponymous LP released in 2012, but comes laden with the expectation that sits around Felice’s undoubted songwriting skills. Sadly, Strangers’ distinct play for mainstream success ensures that it all too often sags under overly glossy production and mawkish melodies.
Simone Felice, as you may know from his work with the porch-stompin’ folk heros the Felice Brothers, is the sort of guy who will compare himself to a sparrow or a swallow, and then talks about golden handkerchiefs and banquets and “grown-ups”—as if they were a foreign thing—without a hint of a smirk. But once you get past these lyrical idiosyncrasies (and there are a few), you can move on to the heart of the matter: his almost prodigal voice and barely-there instrumentation. This will allow you to forgive those idiosyncrasies, or even forget them completely.Strangers is Felice’s second solo LP after 2012’s self-titled effort in which he bulked up his persona as the nomadic troubadour with a slightly swollen heart.