Bob Dylan comparisons have dogged The Felice Brothers since their inception. While these observations certainly aren’t unwarranted (lead singer Ian Felice’s nasal delivery has an uncanny resemblance to Dylan’s, and the band are from upstate New York’s Catskills Mountains, where Dylan and The Band hashed out The Basement Tapes), they tend to distract from the actual music. Regardless of their obvious influences, this quintet has long offered a rustic, charming, and ramshackle take on Americana. With Favorite Waitress, the group’s fifth official album and best to date, they’ve managed to let the songs, rather than their retro posturing, speak for themselves.
Whereas 2011’s Celebration, Florida, their last LP, found the quintet indulging in electronic flourishes, spacey synthesizers, and drum machines, the band keeps the impulsive experimenting to a minimum on Favorite Waitress. It’s a return to their bare-bones roots music, marked right away with the acoustic strums and homey (albeit superfluous) recordings of dogs barking to kick off opener and highlight “Bird on Broken Wing”. On that track, which the band dedicates to the memory of Pete Seeger, Ian Felice’s warm, welcoming voice sings out, “Fare thee well my friend/ I’ll see you at the promised end/ Where the wind is laughter.”
For a folk album without the weirdness of their last effort, Favorite Waitress is still a remarkably varied and well-paced collection of tunes. From the fiddle-rocker “Lion”, to fuzzy, distorted bangers “Cherry Licorice” and “Woman Next Door”, to heartfelt piano-driven ballads “No Trouble” and “Silver in the Shadow”, The Felice Brothers bring enough versatility to command attention over the 47-minute duration. Only on the dreamy “Chinatown” does the band get even the least bit experimental, aiming for the twinkling and romantic with its lullaby melody and luscious arrangement draped over the rugged and ragged.
While The Felice Brothers’ music has always felt a bit off-the-cuff (a trait that often works to their advantage — see their boisterous live show and career-making songs like “Frankie’s Gun”), Favorite Waitress meanders at points. Songs like “Constituents” and “Hawthorne” don’t feel as fully formed compared to the rest of the offerings; they have less energy, less of a hook, less potency. But while those tracks pale in comparison to the rest of the LP, the overall package is wholly satisfying, like a summer barbecue with friends. With Favorite Waitress, The Felice Brothers have elevated their songwriting without losing their rambunctious charm.
Essential Tracks: “Bird On Broken Wing”, “Meadow of a Dream”, and “No Trouble”