Absurdist Americana from a band who are on the crest of an apocalyptic wave.
For a band who were often compared (favourably) to The Band when their debut album was released, The Felice Brothers have gone on to create their own unique style over the course of eight albums, there are few outfits who sound quite like them. From the opening bars of ‘Jazz On The Autobahn’, it’s apparent that it’s Ian Felice in the driving seat in this post-beat apocalyptic road movie of a song. Sounding like Kerouac backed by a whiffed-up jazz band and drunken doo-wop singers, it’s a spectacular opener to what is an exceptionally fine album.
The title, ‘From Dreams To Dust’, might be a reminder of that cradle to grave trajectory we all share but it’s a reminder leavened with dark humour and delivered with gusto. ‘To-Do-List’ is just that, a long list of things to do which mixes the mundane (buy some asparagus, cancel Home & Gardens) with the absurd (buy a spinach coloured dinner jacket, defy all natural laws) and the aspirational (find out what’s killing the bees, proclaim a lasting peace). It goes on quite wonderfully with the band vamping along while Felice unleashes two short frenzied bursts of guitar as if railing against the pointlessness of it all. ‘Money Talks’, in spite of an almost indecipherable spoken intro, is a powerful song, fuelled by Will Lawrence’s pounding drums as Felice unspools a series of snapshots -panic buying, the doomsday clock, chemical spills – ultimately comparing capitalism to a vampire sucking us dry. The splendidly dusty ballad ‘Valium’ is another take on the same topic although here it’s weary and resigned with Mike Moggis’s pedal steel added to the mix. Taking us to that graveside, ‘Be At Rest’ is Ian Felice’s self-penned obituary, spoken by him over a suitably funereal backing and somewhat tongue in cheek. All of the songs on the album repay repeated listening as the words unfold quite wonderfully with familiarity. There’s the rueful reminiscence of youth in the movie themed ‘Inferno’ and the playful and acerbic alphabetical list of various and vacuous nameless “stars” on ‘Celebrity X’ (with James Felice’s keyboards adding some of that Band style playing). Perhaps the most ambitious song on the album is the shape-shifting ‘Land Of Yesterdays’, which opens with an affectionate sepia stained nod to childhood innocence before reality intrudes on an orphanage upbringing with Felice singing repeatedly, “You can never return.”
‘From Dreams To Dust’ is perhaps the finest Felice Brothers’ album so far with the band playing a tremendous mix of folk, country and shambolic rock. They close with a song which is quite glorious and which could easily be mistaken as a defiant hymn to hope. ‘We Shall Live Again’ is a lengthy (eight minutes plus) would be anthem with a sing-along refrain but it wouldn’t be The Felice Brothers without its quirks. One can imagine Pete Seeger urging his audience to all sing “We shall live again” in unison but balking at lyrics such as “Our religion is the same as the pigeons, from Francis of Assisi to the fans of AC/DC, we all shall live again.” Name checking Grandma Moses, Hegel and Proust along the way and peppered with iconic American images, it’s a titanic song we could all cheerily sing as we sail towards the iceberg.
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