On last year’s self-titled Team Love debut The Felice Brothers displayed the ability to play both raucous, beer-soaked folk rock and tender, heartfelt folk ballads. Soulful sing-alongs like “The Greatest Show On Earth“, “Take This Bread“, “Love Me Tenderly” and “Radio Song” were some of the catchiest Americana songs of the past few years. The true highlight of the album though was “Frankie’s Gun”, a song whose lyrics split the difference between straightforward outlaw tale and stream of conscious yarn and sounded musically like The Band playing Mott the Hoople’s “All The Young Dudes”. It was also one of my favorite songs of the year, and is, by far, the best thing the band has yet released. My only complaint with that album was the running time - at 15 songs long The Felice Brothers overstayed its welcome by about 15 minutes.
Their new album, Yonder Is The Clock, comes just a year later, and sonically doesn’t mess with the formula that worked so well before. “Run Chicken Run” plays the role of “Frankie” here, with Ian Felice once again spitting out lines full of vivid imagery and dizzying internal rhymes. It’s an accordion-fueled rocker and a fine introduction to the band, even if the chorus doesn’t quite equal the verses. Better are “Penn Station”, an inspired mess of a song that careens wildly like it could fall apart at any moment, and “Chicken Wire”. “Memphis Flu” is a traditional song that sounds like a drunken home recording. Its loose spirit suits the band perfectly and reminds me of “Treatment Bound” - the underappreciated gem that closed The Replacements’ Hootenanny way back in 1983. All 3 of these songs capture the freewheeling nature of the band at their very best, and “Penn Station” in particular seems to be the track from this album that will turn up again come Year End List Season.
Where The Felice Brothers are more hit or miss is on the quieter songs, and Yonder Is The Clock is full of them. Some work beautifully - the album opens with “The Big Surprise”, a song whose slooow building arrangement is effectively under-produced and comes off as a weird-folk ballad full of creaky vocals and random drum bursts. “Katie Dear” sounds like it could be an outtake from Music From Big Pink or The Band, and “Cooperstown” is a Dylan-esque folk song with vintage baseball imagery that conjures and romanticizes a time long gone. A few of the other slower songs fail to leave a mark though, especially the ones not sung by Ian - I know the band prides itself on its ragged, communal nature but none of the other singers in the band can match Ian’s cracked country vocals or deft wordplay. The album drags a bit when he’s not on the mic.
Overall though, Yonder Is The Clock is another solid effort from a band that works better for their individual songs than cohesive full length albums. When The Felice Brothers strike the right chords they are as memorable as any of their peers working in modern Americana (A.A. Bondy, The Roadside Graves, etc.) or the classic artists whose sounds they clearly echo.
MP3 :: Run Chicken Run
Stream :: Penn Station
(from Yonder Is The Clock. Buy here)