Release Date: Jun 24, 2016
Record label: Yep Roc
The Felice Brothers recorded their new album on a farm, and clucking chickens even ended up on the recordings. Their Dylanesque Americana – all wheezing accordion, fiddles and folk tales about forgotten bandits – occasionally conjures up the atmosphere of a heady barn dance. But this rustic, deceptively homely backdrop provides a clever vehicle for songs that subtly but powerfully address the suddenly shakier foundations of Trump-era America.
Though the typical descriptions of The Felice Brothers’ music have centered on the throwback purity to the band’s ramshackle folk, there have always been some more idiosyncratic tendencies hanging around the shadows. Stepping away from their roots, however, hasn’t exactly worked out for the band, particularly on the bizarre electronic turn on 2011’s Celebration, Florida. The band found their way back again on 2014’s Favorite Waitress, a transition record that sounded a bit strained and forced.
The Felice Brothers seem to be critical un-darlings, or maybe just around these parts (they fare better across the pond). Ten albums in, the Catskill folk-rockers are often portrayed as populist Dylan and the Band imitators — perhaps that's what you get for having a lot of lyrics, recording on a farm and singing that way.Life in the Dark, the band's first since 2014's Favorite Waitress, was self-produced and recorded in a garage on a farm in upstate New York. It's loose to the point of sloppy sometimes (especially the ramshackle drumming).
As some sage once said, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," and the Felice Brothers clearly seem to have taken that advice to heart. The group has always owed a serious creative debt to the Band, and just as the 2014 album Favorite Waitress was especially beholden to the Band's Basement Tapes recordings with Bob Dylan, 2016's Life in the Dark sounds like a thematically similar sequel. Some of the nine tunes on Life in the Dark have a somber, 3 A.M.
The Felice Brothers have been listening to too much of Bob Dylan’s country-inspired records. The Brothers’ music shares that same “shaggy dog” quality with drunken instrumentation and croaking vocals that suggest a do-it-yourself quality, like you made that guitar out of a cigar box and the warped fiddle sounds just as good as any, if not better because of its weird-ass tonal qualities. The lyrics have an off-the-cuff sensibility as if spouted from the subconscious to fit the beat and the mood.
It’s a sweltering summer afternoon in New York City’s subway system, and five scraggly men stand on the platform with instrument cases ajar, making the kind of cacophony that sends some commuters’ eyes rolling while others dig in their pockets for loose change. Every sensory detail contained within this scene — from the thin reverb of the semicircular hall to the beads of sweat steadily dripping onto the young man’s accordion — is baked into The Felice Brothers’ DNA. In the decade since they started making music, the plain and affable folk rockers have earned some lofty comparisons to Bob Dylan and The Band, thanks in no small part to vocalist Ian Felice’s nasally twang and penchant for silly wordplay.