written by Chris Familton
In the realm of americana and roots music bands tend to stay within the confines of their genre for the most part. Some like Wilco and My Morning Jacket stretch and blur their country-based templates but for the most part, re-invention and experimentation are limited in this neck of the woods. Enter The Felice Brothers who, until now, have been firmly rooted in the folk and country idiom with a series of albums that have felt increasingly in thrall to the traditional. Their approach has been both ramshackle and finely tuned with an air of authenticity hanging over all of their work to date. Now onto their eighth release (including self-releases) the band have seemingly thrown the road map out the window and allowed all manner of sounds and styles to permeate their stories/songs with fantastic results.
Celebration, Florida sees the band turning their focus to matters of the city and the modern urban milieu. There are odes to cars (Honda Civic), film directors (Oliver Stone), stories of gyms and pageants and generally a wide angled lens view of contemporary America. One major shift in the inner workings of the band came with the departure of singer/drummer Simone Felice who left to focus on his own music with the more soul leaning The Duke & The King. That may have been the spark for the remaining bros Ian and James to cast their net wider and bring in hip hop, funk and soul flavours – the sounds of metropolitan USA. These new angles are best experienced on tracks like Ponzi (featuring brother Simone guesting on backing vocals) with its funk-lite verses that shuffle into a gospel drenched chorus. You’d think this would be a light and poppy affair from the description but it somehow manages to paint a picture of sadness, loss and observational anger at the fall from grace of corporate America. It doesn’t end there as the song mutates into a swaggering glam-disco vamp mirroring the excess described in the song.
Back In The Dancehalls introduces drum machines and an intentionally naive musical track to soundtrack Ian Felice’s lackadaisical lazy drawl and rap, sounding like a lost rural cousin to late 80s Daisy Age hip hop. Refrain is steeped in jerky, neurotic electronica and Honda Civic even succumbs to some cheeky auto-tune. Though there are changes aplenty on Celebration, Florida it is still immediately identifiable as The Felice Brothers. They balance the new ventures with some moments of stark melancholic folk that are as good as anything they’ve done before. Dallas is is a glorious back porch moment and Best I’ve Ever Had sounds befittingly casual and loose as we’ve come to expect from the band. There are rattling guitar strings and chirping background crickets giving the air of a song in skeletal form. Ian Felice’s voice is a wonderfully worn instrument all over the album. Sounding equal parts tired, dusty and hardwired to your heartstrings he can make the most innocuous lyrics sound like poetic gems – whether he is lacing his words with bitter profanities on River Jordan or romanticising a return to nature on the same song.
Celebration, Florida is a brave and brazen move from a band that could easily continue to gain an audience plying their more traditional song forms but they have pulled it off impressively. They have retained the heart and soul of what makes them such a special band while also adding new colours and traits. It feels like discovering new and unexpected things about a close friend – at first you are perplexed but ultimately the relationship is enriched.
this review first appeared on FasterLouder