AmericanA to Z: Simone Felice

When Simone was thirteen, he died. He flatlined in a frozen New York state January after suffering a brain haemorrhage. No one expected him to make it, but somehow he did. The doctors had to remove a part of his brain associated with music, art, and creativity. He should never have been able to play music, but somehow he did. Felice has spoken about this experience on stage, and about the resultant feeling that his life is borrowed, or somehow not his own. He speaks with a strangeness and intensity that seems to flow out of the depths of his very being. This same, almost spiritual, intensity is embodied in all his music, from the frenetic, joyful caterwauling of The Felice Brothers, to the intimate vulnerability of his solo records. He is Lazarus Presley. Risen from the dead to play rock’n’roll.

The band Simone founded with his brothers and their friend, The Felice Brothers, are a perennial face on this site, and need no introduction. They have put out consistently brilliant Americana records for the last decade and a half, and their rough around the edges, authentic style has helped push the genre into, if not the mainstream, at least a pretty major tributary.

Prior to his truly solo records, Simone left The Felice Brothers to start another band, The Duke and the King. Their critically acclaimed 2009 debut ‘Nothing Gold Can Stay‘ provides a glorious injection of old school soul. Highlight track ‘One More American Song‘, told from the point of view of an embittered war veteran, is the start of something of a theme in his writing. ‘Shakey’, the standout single from the 2010 follow-up record Long Live the Duke and the King’ tells the story of a soldier in the Iraq war, and ‘Dawn Brady’s Son‘, from his first solo record, is about a Vietnam War veteran who commits suicide, and the toll this takes on his family. Felice’s father was a marine, and he grew up wanting to be one too. War and conflict, and the price ordinary people pay for them, clearly loom large in his mind, and this is reflected in the many thoughtful songs he has written on the subject.

In 2011, Simone released his first major solo album ‘Simone Felice‘. It’s a wonderful record, featuring a mix of sun-drenched driving songs (‘You and I Belong‘), heart-wrenching story songs (‘Dawn Brady’s Son‘) and the gem that is ‘New York Times‘. The latter uses the framing device of reading a copy of the New York Times and musing on all the different stories; a Native American man fleeing the cops, Michael Jackson’s death, a mass shooting at a ballet school, leading up to witnessing the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre. It’s a powerful, deeply moving song, and a true testament to Felice’s songwriting.

As well as two more solo studio albums and a live album, Felice is a prolific producer. Many people who have never heard of him have certainly heard songs he’s worked on. From Bat for Lashes to The Lumineers, the intense soulfulness he brings is easy to hear. Jeremiah Fraites of The Lumineers put it this way; ‘Whether it’s a tambourine hit or a syllable in one of the lyrics, Simone Felice does not fuck around in the studio. He is the first to enter the studio and the last one to leave. He lives music for real.’

I have seen Simone Felice play live on two separate occasions. The first time, in a tiny sweaty room above a bar, he jumped about with his bass player and played Springsteen covers to a roaring audience. The second time, in a candle lit cellar, he sat in the shadows and drew a breathless audience into his melancholic vision of the world. These two performances embody the duality of Simone Felice as an artist. By one turn a charismatic rock and roll hero, by another a withdrawn, thoughtful, beautiful songwriter. Perhaps he was sent back to save our souls.

The Canon: 

The Felice Brothers: Through These Reins and Gone (2006), Tonight At The Arizona (2007), Adventures of The Felice Brothers Vol. 1 (2007), The Felice Brothers (2008), Yonder Is The Clock (2009).

The Duke & The King: Nothing Gold Can Stay (2009), Long Live The Duke & The King (2010).

Solo: Simone Felice (2011), Strangers (2014), From the Violent Banks of the Kaaterskill (2015), Projector (2018).

Key Releases: Tonight at the Arizona, Nothing Gold Can Stay, Shakey (single), Simone Felice.


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