Thursday, June 19, 2014

Felice Brothers Find A Favorite Waitress

The Felice Brothers
After losing founding member Simone Felice and drummer Dave Turbeville two years ago, the Felice Brothers have been busy searching for a new sound to match their lineup. Favorite Waitress seems to catch them in mid-transition with more Americana and less alternative country.

Overall, the album puts them on the right trajectory despite its unevenness. The production itself is polished, but some compositions take on too much swagger for their own good. Even so, there are plenty of gems to mine from Favorite Waitress, which will leave some wondering if a tighter album with fewer tracks might have been the better bet after regrouping with a new lineup.

Favorite Waitress is split between gems and stones. 

The new lineup — including Ian Felice (vocals, guitar), James Felice (accordion, keys, vocals), Greg Farley (fiddle, vocals), Josh Rawson (bass, vocals), and David "Esta" Estabrook (drums) —isn't the only first for the Felice Brothers. This album is the first produced in a proper studio.

After working for more than a year on material, the band mined through a demo list of a hundred songs and knocked the entire album out in week with the help of long-time producer and collaborator Jeremy Backofen. Mostly they focused on trying to capture a five-piece minimalism, which comes across nicely on several tracks.

The lead promotional track, Cherry Licorice, is one of the finest. The playful song washes away any youthful hardships with an exuberant taste for licorice and love for life. It's made even more captivating with the lyrical video put together by Rawson.

The paintings in the video were contributed by Ian Felice. The entire track also takes on new meaning as the lyrics don't always match the words or include nods in different directions with some creative spelling. But even without the added niceties, Cherry Licorice is one of the album's essential tracks.

Along with that, the opener Bird On Broken Wing establishes that the Felice Brothers are master storytellers. Even the ambient noise in the background seems to add something to the track, a straightforward acoustic that the band dedicated to the memory of Pete Seeger.

Other times, the lyrics get carried away with themselves. Meadow Of A Dream hangs in there before collapsing on a few lines that would have been better left out. Lion doesn't necessarily get the album back on track either. It comes across more as a folk filler, waiting for something better.

That something better is Saturday Night, a croaking slow burn with an indifferent and casual melody. Felice sings it with conviction, describing some magical time when anything can happen in life. It doesn't even matter what the outcome might be when you walk into a bar with "a couple bucks in your pocket and head full of teeth that could use loosening."

After that, give a little more attention to Katie Cruel, a rewrite of the American folk song with Scottish influences. The lyrics don't borrow anything from the original song but rather recast Katie Cruel with a few clues that help lock in its origins. No Trouble is a triumph in its sentiment. Chinatown includes a welcome experimental tone to it. Woman Next Door is a fun dance hall rocker before the band closes with Silver In The Shadow (which tries too hard to be an epic closer).

There are clearly enough tracks and diversity to make Favorite Waitress a satisfying album, but some might wonder if it would have been a bit better had some tracks been surrendered in the studio. Still, some might make the case that all it lends to the spontaneity and nonconformity of the band too.

Favorite Waitress By The Felice Brothers Rings 5.3 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Since the band first came together as an upstate New York outfit bound for New York City, there has always been an authenticity to the Felice Brothers that makes them listenable alongside bands like Dawes and Deer Tick. If anything, Favorite Waitress makes this case even more so.

You can find Favorite Waitress by the Felice Brothers on Amazon or download select tracks from iTunes. Barnes & Noble carries the vinyl edition of Favorite Waitress. For touring dates, visit the band on Facebook. There is a heavy schedule of Midwest and Southern showrooms before the band breaks for the United Kingdom in August.
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