‘Undress’ is the Felice Brothers’ 14th album, the first album of new material for three years and something of a treat. Another of those ‘recorded live’ records (though not quite, this one has minimal overdubs), it does capture a band channelling a vital energy and clearly enjoying themselves.
The 12 song collection opens with the title track which immediately signals intent; these brothers have something to say. Musically, the opening beckons the listener in with a delicate piano figure before settling into a mid-tempo piece, underpinned by ardent brass that carries the song to an immensely satisfying controlled-chaotic conclusion.
The whole album delivers neatly arranged and well played Americana/folk/roots/rock, but from the get-go it’s the lyrics that set the tone; ‘Undress’ as with many songs on this album raises an eyebrow in a ‘how did we get here?’ kind of way. ‘Undress’, in this instance, is a plea to strip away the titles, the obsessions with money and power and recognise where unreflective submission to base instinct has got us (Native American genocide), or could lead us (nuclear catastrophe). So come on Republicans, Democrats, “Caesars of wall street”, “Evangelicals (yeah, you)” it is time for a little humility and to look up the meaning of hubris.
And yet, the messages are delivered from a perspective that is a kind of charming knowing-naiveté. So ‘Special Announcement’ has the answer! The narrator is going to be the Commander-in-Chief to solve all of this. How? Easy! he is “Saving up my money, to be President” and so we are trapped again in the reality of trajectories that will continue inexorably unless we affect change. And all the time this is delivered over music that is instinctually Americana but never clichéd.
In ‘Salvation Army Girl’, our saviour is in the form of the volunteer who will “Give you soup and bread for free” and “All the junkies agree looks like Jackie Kennedy” Ah! Again we are alight with the prospect of things that could have been, rather than the rather dour day to day experience of ‘The Kid’ who “lives in dark dreams” and although we know “The things that he did were wrong, but who is to blame; it’s as much his crime as it is yours and mine”.
And so it goes on: ‘The Kid’, ‘Hometown Hero’ and all have their victims, and frankly the odds look a little bleak. So is this a depressing record? Not a bit of it. For it is rather like Galadriel in Lord of the Rings when speaking of “Things that were…things that are…and some things that have not yet come to pass”, her message is, and I like to think the Felice Brothers through this fine set of songs are delivering the same, namely that “Even the smallest person can change the course of the future”. So have faith, believe in humanity, reflect on, and believe in the things that matter, do not give up hope, and in the meantime it really is better with (The Felice Brothers’) music.