Album Review: Favorite Waitress by The Felice Brothers
Very Good, Based on 10 Critics
American Songwriter - 80 Based on rating 4/5
The Felice BrothersFavorite Waitress(Dualtone)4 out of 5 stars Now six releases into a catalog that has gained considerable steam since The Felice Brothers’ scrappy 2006 debut, the band loses drummer/songwriter/novelist Simone to a solo career and retreats somewhat from the sonic experimentation that dominated, and to some ears hindered, 2011’s boundary pushing Celebration, Florida. That album seemed to be an attempt to distance them from their earlier ramshackle, Band-inspired, chicken-coop recordings. Much of that wanderlust is reigned in on the more rustic, but equally eclectic and lyrically challenging studio follow-up (last year’s homemade digital-only God Bless You Amigo was a quickie made to raise cash for a new van).
The passion of The Felice Brothers is indisputable. It shows in their live gigs and their prolific releases. Favorite Waitress, the group’s fifth LP (not including six mixtapes), also represents the band’s first time collectively recording in a traditional studio. Working with longtime friend and producer Jeremy Backofen, they recorded in Mike Mogis’ Omaha enclave, rather than somewhere in their native upstate New York (like in a chicken coop like for 2007’s Adventures of The Felice Brothers, Vol.
Bob Dylan comparisons have dogged The Felice Brothers since their inception. While these observations certainly aren’t unwarranted (lead singer Ian Felice’s nasal delivery has an uncanny resemblance to Dylan’s, and the band are from upstate New York’s Catskills Mountains, where Dylan and The Band hashed out The Basement Tapes), they tend to distract from the actual music. Regardless of their obvious influences, this quintet has long offered a rustic, charming, and ramshackle take on Americana.
The Felice Brothers previous release, 2011's Celebration, Florida turned a lot of heads with its infusion of synth-heavy tracks. Yet it is the return to form of Favorite Waitress that will likely have fans of the band nodding their heads along in approval: It's a return to the shambolic yet invigorating brand of crowd-pleasing Americana. The record succeeds when the band give in to the temptation of pleasing their crowd with ramshackle tracks that will work well in a live setting.The five-piece sound their best when they're loose and comfortable to leave it all on the table, as they are on "Lion," which rises and falls dramatically with a buoyant string section.
After exploring new creative boundaries on 2011's Celebration, Florida, the Felice Brothers lost drummer and founding member Simone Felice in 2012, and as they regroup with a new lineup on their 2014 release, Favorite Waitress, they clearly find themselves turning to one of their primary influences, the Band. In fact, the album finds them focusing on a very specific era of the Band's history -- the months when they were woodshedding with Bob Dylan post-motorcycle accident and creating what would come to be known as The Basement Tapes. While the surfaces of Favorite Waitress are significantly more polished than that (this is the Felice Brothers' first album to be cut in a proper recording studio), this music often has the slightly shambolic, loose-yet-committed tone of those early sessions at Big Pink, and the songwriting certainly follows the rumpled blend of impressionism and silliness that marked Dylan's Basement Tapes classics like "Quinn the Eskimo" or "Million Dollar Bash," bolstered by the Zimmerman-flavored drawl of Ian Felice's vocals.
Perennial festival presence the Felice Brothers have always seemed most at home bringing their rollicking folk rock to a live crowd. Their last studio LP, 2011's Celebration, Florida, layered synthetic and industrial flourishes to the point of distraction, as though trying to distance themselves from that year's mainstream folk revival. The follow-up strips down, keeping a tight leash on the band's quirks: "Constituents" simmers without boiling, and "Saturday Night" has some sharp lyrical teeth.
The first vocals on Favorite Waitress aren’t from any of the brothers themselves, but from their dog barking in the background. The shambling, acoustic opener “Bird on Broken Wing” (which is dedicated to the memory of Pete Seeger) is filled with background noise, the bustle of busy bodies barking or conversing or just bumping into things. It’s the kind of ambient noise that might ruin a take by another band or at least get edited out before the song makes its way onto an album.
The Felice Brothers’ sixth full-length manages to tap into a vein of folksy/country rock that is at once self-assured and humble. The band couples wry, boozy humor with folk’s traditional “rambling” themes to make an instantly likeable, often poignant sound. You can hear echos of Dylan’s “sand and glue” in the vocals, and the music follows in a typical rustic style.
In hip-hop and dancehall, where singles and mixtapes build audiences, the official debut album is less an introduction than a graduation. So it is with “Where We Come From” (Mixpak), the debut album by Popcaan, born Andre Jay Sutherland, who’s already one of Jamaica’s top dancehall ….
Over the course of their eight-year career, dishevelled New York State oiks The Felice Brothers have forged themselves an impressive reputation among devotees of the modern American folk scene. There are few bands capable of bettering their rousing combination of bucked-toothed roots-rock and effortless, old-fashioned songwriting. However, their recordings could quite easily be mistaken for compilations of forgotten Greenwich Village folk gems, thrown together to celebrate half a century of Highway 61 Revisited (it hardly helps that singer Ian Felice really sounds like Bob Dylan).