Anyone that pays attention to music knows that the “popular sound”, or at least whatever genre gets a little extra push to the forefront, moves in waves. In the early/mid-’90s, it was grunge, in the late 90’s it was nu-metal, and then it was more of an “indie” sound in the mid-00’s. Nowadays, it seems to be the folksy Americana sound. Bon Iver, Fleet Foxes, Iron & Wine—and most recently Frightened Rabbit and Mumford & Sons—have all rode the wave over the last few years, with many imitators coming out of the woodwork. It’s hard to find a way to delineate one band from another in this guitar/banjo-plucking scene, other than the fact that some bands have Southern or Scottish accents.
Now meet The Felice Brothers—a group of five musicians from the Catskills of Upstate New York who play a brand of Americana that doesn’t quite fit the same mold as the rest mentioned above. Sure, they have fiddles, guitars, pianos, and accordions, but you won’t find many other folk bands that use electronic 808 drums, synths, or varied tempos all within one song. On their eighth album, Celebration, Florida, The Felice Brothers combine all these elements into a haunting portrait of Americana. The songs on the album are dark and expansive, with a perfect splash of sloppy—case in point, the frantic rush of “Honda Civic”.
Recorded in an old Beacon, NY, gymnasium, Celebration, Florida, uses the slow, dying reverb of the space and the darkness of a backwoods mountain drive to flavor every aspect of the music. Opening song “Fire at the Pageant” is one of the more bone-chilling tracks on the album—especially when the screaming children’s choir comes in on the chorus. Lead singer Ian Felice’s voice has a gritty drawl that is reminiscent of Dylan, but with an added flavor of Tom Waits’ emotion. When he gets worked up—as on closing track, “River Jordan”—you are hard pressed to find a modern folk singer that can match him.
Overall, the album has hints of mud-trudging folksters O’Death, and the electronic drums and dreamy piano give you a flashback to Isaac Brock’s Ugly Casanova project. The Felice Brothers have been quietly self-releasing albums for a few years now, and this may be the time when they break through the hum of banjos and flannel to cement their place near the front of the pack.