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ALBUM REVIEW: The Felice Brothers – Undress

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THE FELICE BROTHERS
UNDRESS
Yep Roc Records

At their core, The Felice Brothers have always centred on the songwriting of Ian Felice and the musicality of brother James, plus the influence of Simone Felice in the band’s early days, before he moved on to a solo career. They’ve had a revolving door of drummers but a year ago they experience their biggest lineup upheaval with the departure of their bassist and their fiddle player. Undress is therefore a new chapter for the band and with it comes some shifts in sound and subject matter. Most importantly the song quality is still of the highest order.

Without fiddle in the band there is a textural shift to a more swirling, cosmic sound and a greater emphasis on vocal harmonies. ‘Holy Weight Champ’ includes Jim Morrison-like spoken word from Ian while the music builds smoky spirals of keyboards, guitars and billowing cymbals. Closer ‘Socrates’, takes prog elements and builds shimmering psychedelic folk dust-storms amid its more delicate piano lines. ‘Salvation Army Girl’ is a gallop through a folk-rock shakedown complete with horns and 60s backing vocals. Those kinds of contrasts are new and exciting developments in the sound of the band.

Ian often paints abstract and collage-like imagery in his lyrics and those are definitely still employed, particularly on ‘Days Of The Years’, but he also takes a more direct line on some songs, particularly the more politically-centred tracks. ‘Undress’ pleads for a stripping of the bullshit, games and posturing that so permeates politics in this day and age, while ‘Special Announcement’ uses humour to address the issue of how money is used to shape and control governments and people.

The band’s roots-music origins haven’t been cast aside by any means. ‘TV Mama’ is a beautifully rich and warm slow-dance with piano and pedal steel dialling into a forlorn honky-tonk sound while ‘Hometown Hero’ is the closest thing to their folk origins and ‘Jack Reminiscing’ cuts a sweet and similar path to the Dylan who recorded ‘Absolutely Sweet Marie’.

The Felice Brothers are continue their near faultless decade of music, exploring and expanding cosmic Americana in the 21st century.

Chris Familton

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