Release Date: May 10, 2011
Record label: Fat Possum
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
Celebration, Florida is a planned community just a stone's throw from the Walt Disney World theme park that was initially developed by the Disney corporation as an experiment in moving the corporate brand into the ultimate in lifestyle marketing. The 11 stories that comprise the Felice Brothers' fifth album (and first for Fat Possum) don't deal explicitly with life in Celebration, even though the town gives the album its title, but the name does seem appropriate for a collection of tunes in which things don't always seem to match their surfaces or expectations. Celebration, Florida finds the Felice Brothers moving gracefully but deliberately from the organic, folk-oriented sound of their early work; while the eclecticism and stylistic wanderlust of the Band is still a touchstone, the hip-hop-influenced rhythms and found sounds of "Found at the Pageant" and "Ponzi," and the electronic textures in "Back in the Dancehalls" (which also includes a lyrical nod the Geto Boys) show the group isn't shy about adding new colors to their palette, but even though this album may sound different, the aim remains very much the same, as do the Felice Brothers' strengths.
The Felice Brothers have spent the past five years churning out albums steadfastly rooted in old-as-the-hills folk-rock Americana. But with Celebration, Florida, they blow their definition of American music wide open. The stick of dynamite is planted 30 seconds into Honda Civic: its opening section is sepia-tinted and dusty, with lonesome harmonica and shuffling drums, then bang, the song transforms into an urgent soul number replete with irrepressibly rude horns.
With brother Simone having departed, Ian and James Felice soldier on, infusing their fall-down, soul-struck folk with big-band brass, wooshing synths and lyrics about Oliver Stone and Mike Tyson. While the experiment sometimes fails (see: car-chase chugger “Honda Civic”), closer “River of Jordan” nearly drowns it all out. As the group plows Titus Andronicus’ anxious fury through loamy Catskill dirt, Ian hollers out his mistakes and regrets, sounding like a cigarette-charred Hank Williams at the end of his line.
The Felice Brothers must be big fans of film director Oliver Stone. Not only is their most ambitious song on their latest album named after Stone, but the upstate New Yorkers frequently employ the moviemaker’s method of combining real people and situations (JFK, The Doors) with certain imaginary elements to create a deeper truth. The Felice Brothers create cinematic songs with plots, characters and settings that could easily be made into screenplays, or seem reminiscent of something you think you have already seen.
The Felice Brothers are an act that clearly put serious thought into the nomenclature of their work; Yonder Is The Clock, their last album proper, took its title from a posthumously published novella by the American author Mark Twain. In so doing they linked the band to a writer associated with works of humour, social criticism and rich characterisation, all themes applicable to The Brothers’ back catalogue. The reference helped to build upon a fairly specific furrow the band had been ploughing up to and including that release, specifically the grittier side of Americana, where traditional instrumentation and production is combined with evocative storytelling.
In November 2010, the body of a man was found in his home in Celebration, Florida. He had been strangled and beaten with an axe. It was the town's first homicide in its 15-year history, and while the culprit was soon apprehended, the incident was a shock to many of the municipality's 10,000 residents. This kind of thing wasn't supposed to happen in Celebration, which had been founded by Disney specifically to be a crime-free, family-friendly throwback to a way of life that's more imagined than actual.
An engaging diversion down a road which might be worth investigating further. Andrew Mueller 2011 The Felice Brothers, inevitably for an American outfit trading in rootsy, wordy balladry, generally delivered in a belligerent nasal sneer, have become accustomed to being measured against Bob Dylan. Celebration, Florida, the Woodstock group’s fifth album, marks the point at which those who’ve made those comparisons should commingle in a hearty chorus of "Judas!": as never before, The Felice Brothers have gone electric, and other things besides.