The Felice Brothers have always been a band born out of time. ‘Life In The Dark’ is no exception. Asides the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it shout-outs to Microsoft and Viacom, there’s nothing to suggest this album was recorded after the digital revolution. But that’s what the Felice Brothers do best. And that’s why people like them.
As their number thirteen, ‘Life In The Dark’ is everything you’d expect from the Catskill Mountain boys. Vintage by numbers, with harmonicas, pianos, fiddles, and that trademark accordion all jumbled together into a cacophonous wake for dead Americana. Business as usual, but with a few surprises lurking in the woodwork.
After the jangly opener of ‘Aerosol Ball’ we slip into a swathe of slow-burner twang-ballads, peaking with ‘Triumph 73’, a track best suited to a Walking Dead emotions montage. The second half of the album livens up a bit, a highlight being the Louisiana toe-tapper ‘Dancing On The Wing’. In an album looser than a freeform blues jam, it’s nice to hear the instruments locking together for a change.
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But it’s not an album without surprises. Chief amongst them is fifth track ‘Plunder’, a rock n roll jackhammer straight to the gut. With a heartland anthem chorus and a guitar tone ripped from Chuck Berry’s nightmares, it recalls some of the oddities of their back-catalogue and reminds us they were never just a roots band. Another standout is the almost-instrumental ‘Sally!’ where the gloves come off for a full hooch-powered hoedown.
The shoestring production is worth a mention. In contrast to some of their sharp-as-a-razor earlier releases, this sounds like it was recorded on a one-track tape-deck in a New York basement. The vocals fizz, the drums are slappy, and the guitars echo like the subways where the group first cut their teeth. Being the folksters they are, they pull this passion-over-perfection approach off in a Springsteen’s ‘Nebraska’ kind of way. Whether they intended it or not.
Ultimately, this isn’t an album to rewrite the songbook. It lacks the vibrant freshness of ‘The Felice Brothers’ and the death-or-glory oddness of ‘Celebration, Florida’. If you’re already a fan of the Felice (a Felician perhaps?), it’s a safe addition to the collection. If you’re a newcomer, you can get moderate kicks from the Dylan meets The Lumineers vibes. But if you happen to be hosting a gritty Cajun dance party in a disused subway station, this might just be the album to guzzle your moonshine to.
‘Life In The Dark’ is out now on Yep Roc Records
This Felice Brothers article was written by Matt George Lovett, a GIGsoup contributor