CD Review of Yonder Lies the Clock by The Felice Brothers
The Felice Brothers: Yonder Lies the Clock
Recommended if you like
Bob Dylan, The Band, early Tom Waits
Label
Team Love
The Felice Brothers:
Yonder Lies the Clock

Reviewed by Jeff Giles

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I
t was only a little over a year ago that the Felice Brothers released their self-titled, gloriously out of fashion debut, and they’ve spent the last 13 months enjoying the sort of low-level, critic-fueled fame that comes with making a deeply traditional roots-rock record for a label as hip as Conor Oberst’s Team Love. Happily, The Felice Brothers had the tunes to back up the buzz; though it would have been easy to dismiss the band as a gimmick if they were trying to strike up a hootenanny with subpar material, tracks like "Frankie’s Gun!" made a compelling case for the Brothers as legitimate musical descendants of the artists they so convincingly aped – a list that includes major names like Dylan and the Band.

The Felice Brothers had an advantage with that album, however – it was cobbled together using new songs and the best bits of their independently released Adventures of the Felice Brothers Vol. 1, making it easier to separate the wheat from the chaff. It was a given that their second Team Love effort, Yonder Lies the Clock, would feature more of the same pleasingly off-kilter vocals and back-porch instrumentation they’ve become known for; the question was whether or not the new songs would be able to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the old ones. The answer, as it turns out, is a disappointing "sort of."

Yonder starts off strong, with the slow-burning, strongly Dylanesque "The Big Surprise," which builds gradually under a strummed electric guitar and Ian Felice’s wobbly, half-spoken vocals before reaching a crescendo with a "Day in the Life"-style violin screech around the 3:30 mark. It’s followed by "Penn Station," an instant classic drinking song that’s pushed along with a cacophony of handclaps, violin, and harmonica. It’s morbid as hell, but that’s the case with a lot of the Felice Brothers’ best stuff – and anyway, you’ll be too busy raising a glass to notice. Still, as the song builds to its glorious breakdown, it’s hard not to wonder where the album can possibly go from here.

Not far, unfortunately. Although the rest of Yonder Lies the Clock definitely has its moments, much of the record is bogged down in ballads that, though certainly not without their charms (particularly the Waits-ish "Buried in Ice" and woozy, regret-soaked "Katie Dear"), have the cumulative effect of sucking all the energy out of the album. By the time it closes with the empty saloon anthem "Rise and Shine," you won’t need to know where to find the clock, because you will have been checking it repeatedly for most of an hour.

Still, even if it is woefully uneven, Yonder’s high points almost make up for its deficiencies. Aside from that fantastic opening one-two punch, the album boasts "Chicken Wire," a Catskills punk rave-up with gunshot drums, a drunken organ, and a guitar solo worthy of an early Replacements album; there’s also the concert favorite-in-waiting "Run Chicken Run," which climbs a bashing beat on top of a wall of accordions. When they’re fun, the Felice Brothers are irresistible – and the fact that they draw so deeply from elements of American music that are too often ignored or misunderstood makes it impossible to find too much fault with the album. Their obvious imperfections are part of their charm, so it only makes sense that Yonder Lies the Clock is so deeply flawed. That doesn’t make it any less of a disappointment, but for roots rock enthusiasts, this is still one of the must-hear albums of the year.

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