CD Review of The Felice Brothers by The Felice Brothers
Recommended if you like
The Band, the Avett Brothers,
Bob Dylan
Label
Team Love
The Felice Brothers:
The Felice Brothers

Reviewed by Jeff Giles

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R
oots music enthusiasts may value authenticity, but they don’t require it. The members of Creedence Clearwater Revival, for instance, grew up about as far from a bayou as you can get on mainland America – and the members of the Band, preeminent practitioners of backwoods rock, were mostly dirty Canadians. Having Americana in your blood, in other words, isn’t as important as an ability to make it sing through the speakers.

That being said, the members of the Felice Brothers – three of whom are actually brothers with the last name Felice, and all of whom are probably drunk on moonshine whenever you’re reading this – have a fundamental, generational bond with the music they play. Catskills-bred sons of a carpenter who teamed up with a “traveling dice player” named Christmas and found unlikely fame while busking in New York City subways, the Felice Brothers sound like an idea for a horrible movie – but much to the delight of an expanding cadre of fans, they’re real, and this is their self-titled American debut.

Soaked in a mason jar containing the distilled spirits of Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, and 300 years of back-porch bullshitting, these 15 songs all sound like they could have been written long before the Felice Brothers were born. The performances are replete with gang-shouted choruses, accordions, and reverb-drenched horns, topped off with bracingly honest, sweetly unsteady lead vocals, and shot through with – you guessed it – authenticity.

Yes, the Felice Brothers are the real deal, but that wouldn’t matter as much if their songs weren’t so much fun to turn up loud. For their Stateside debut, the Brothers had the advantage of being able to cobble together new songs with holdovers from the independently released Adventures of the Felice Brothers Vol. 1, which has the distinction of being perhaps the greatest album ever to be recorded to two-track tape in a chicken coop. The result is a 15-track, hour-plus collection that feels surprisingly taut – though listeners may wish the band had spread things a little more evenly between rave-ups like the fan favorite “Frankie’s Gun!” and mountain ballads like “Love Me Tenderly,” there really aren’t any dead spots here.

Songs that evoke past musical glories this strongly are bound to be mistaken for exercises in nostalgia, but there’s a difference between sentimentalism and timelessness, and nothing about these songs suggests that the Felice Brothers’ music is meant to be seen as a reaction against current trends, modern life, or anything else. Quite the contrary: The Felice Brothers is a celebration of the bonds of family and the power of song. Their true test will come whenever they get around to assembling a follow-up to this gloriously ragged “debut,” but in the meantime, roll down your windows and sing along.

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