The Felice Brothers +The Rails+ Carson McHone @Celtic Connections, St Luke’s, Glasgow, 24th January 2020

On a recent Friday night in Glasgow’s East End, at St Luke’s, around the corner from Barrowlands, Ian and James Felice glance up at the room that they could have sold-out many times and smile to themselves. It’s their first visit since 2016 to one of their cities. They built their tour around this Celtic Connections date and with bassist Jesske Hume and drummer Will Lawrence adding to the vocal make-up, the band appear to have discarded their chaotic label but still combine musicality with spontaneity and wry wit.

The set spans their career. Fourteen years in and they have remained true to their roots, driven by the drum/bass/accordion backbeat and jagged rhythm of wordsmith Ian’s frail vocals, opening with ‘The Kid’, a gritty mix of cool poetry and Netflix imagery. Many of their songs follow this format, little socio-economic vignettes of modern-day America. There’s humour too, and in ‘Aerosol Ball’ Ian and Jesske snigger at the rhymes. Lead vocals are shared with pianist/accordionist James who adds powerful sincerity to crowd-pleaser ‘Whiskey in my Whiskey’, ‘Hometown Hero’, and most tenderly when he is joined by Ian on the piano on ‘Nail It on the First Try’ from 2019’s ‘Undress’.

The bill tonight is a high profile one of country/Americana/ folk – Camden based The Rails take the main support slot and there is a late addition of Carson McHone, hailing from Austin Tx. Dressed in a white summer jacket and jeans, McHone plays the part of the solo Texas troubadour brilliantly, opening with the haunting ‘How ‘Bout It’ from her latest album ‘Carousel’ on Loose Music. She starts to explain that her next song ‘(I need) Drugs’ is metaphoric then realises that a Glasgow audience doesn’t need explanations.

The Rails are Kami Thompson and James Walbourne and they play tonight as an acoustic duo. Without a full band, the opener ‘Ball and Chain’ showcases the subtle vocal arrangements. On ‘A Late Surrender’, Thompson sings with earnest and passion reminiscent of her father Richard’s later work. The clarity and precision of the harmonies are evident nowhere more than on the beautiful ‘Something is Slipping My Mind’ and the plaintive English folk of ‘Mossy Well’ and ‘William Taylor’. They also introduce ‘Willow Tree’ as a folk song and jokingly request that the exits are sealed, but in fact this song is probably their most Americana piece that wouldn’t be out of place on a porch in Appalachia.

More on the Felice brothers: Ian wore a faded Malcolm X T-shirt, jeans and walking boots, and had a guitar that looked like it had been on fire a couple of times. James had dispensed with the gaffer-taped accordion from previous visits, and, as for the crowd, to quote ‘Days of Years’, “The song was weird but still they cheered.” There’s not enough space in this review to fully celebrate the importance of this band’s return to these shores, so for more on the Felice Brothers stay tuned for part two next week.

Grateful thanks to Kendall Wilson for the fabulous pictures

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