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Felice Brothers - Tonight at the Arizona

  by Malcolm Carter

published: 6 / 9 / 2007

Felice Brothers - Tonight at the Arizona
Label: Loose Music
Format: CD


Excellent debut album from the Hudson River -based the Felice Brothers who up-date the ramshackle sound of Dylan and the Band and drag it into this century

No doubt they will soon get sick and tired of all the Dylan and The Band comparisons but for now this four-piece (not unsurprisingly three brothers born along the Hudson River and a fairly recent recruit in a bassist who goes by the name of Christmas) seem to be happy to be associated with such legends. So much so that the revealing notes on the back of their debut CD, superbly written by Gabe Soria of Vice Magazine, even mention the Band. As does everything else written about this group that you are likely to come across just now. From the photo on the album sleeve to the actual music it’s obvious that The Felice Brothers are greatly influenced by The Band and that’s no bad thing but it would be wrong to write them off as mere copyists. Lack of information on exactly who does what within the band makes it hard to put a name to the brother who actually sounds like Dylan ; is it Simone, Ian or James? But if we have to listen to a bunch of musicians who are dragging the ramshackle sound of Dylan and The Band into 2007 then the Felice Brothers who do it better, so much better, than most must be first choice. From the opening song ‘Roll On Arte’; a song that if it were not for the rough edges and the feeling that it was all going to fall apart at any second would have slotted nicely into ‘Music From Big Pink’ it’s obvious that here is a bunch of musicians who are not afraid to wear their influences on their sleeves and who have the ability to have you singing along to a chorus the first time you hear it. Their sound stretches back to that of Woody Guthrie taking in the likes of Townes Van Zandt and Neil Young along the way without ever losing sight of Dylan. But the real beauty is that this music doesn’t sound forced; looking at photos of the group it’s difficult to imagine them making any other sounds than those contained on this album. These guys were born to make this music, simple as that. The vocals wander off at times. There is a moment on the third song, ‘Hey Hey Revolver’ where you start to think that something is wrong with the CD, there’s a glitch and the sound fades for a split second ; according to those excellent sleeve notes it’s the sound of lightning hitting the studio the band was recording in as they put the song down, and there is a general feeling of looseness ; that any small mistakes that would have been put right later with any other band have been left in this time. It all adds to the atmosphere and makes this collection of eleven songs something special. They haven’t tried to clean up this sound, there is no ‘fairy dust’ sprinkled onto the songs to buff up a shine, there is nothing added to bring out the twisted beauty in these tunes, what the Felice Brothers put down on tape is what we hear and it’s all the better for that. A lone accordion then “Powder your nose, pull off your panty-hose, let me love you from behind, my darling” opens track two, ‘Ballad Of Lou The Welterweight’ and with those quavering vocals breaking up and a glorious melody which also threatens to fall apart at any moment it’s the song to go for if you want to hear the Felice Brothers at their best. Real life is all over this album. From suicide to unwanted pregnancies the stories told by The Felice Brothers are stories we have all heard before but never in such a real, untouched fashion. The pretty melodies belie the harshness of the words and the simple instrumentation just adds more atmosphere to these songs. Never has the phrase ‘less is more’ been more apt that here. For those of us who long for the honesty found in the work of Van Zandt and Warren Zevon and who like their Americana without any embellishments ; for those who want to hear it just as it is then ‘Tonight At The Arizona’ has got to be one of the best albums of the year.

Track Listing:-
1 Roll on Arte
2 Ballad of Lou the Welterweight
3 Hey Hey Revolver
4 Your Belly in My Arms
5 Lady Day
6 T for Texas
7 Rockefeller Druglaw Blues
8 Mercy
9 Christmas Song
10 Going Going Gone
11 Take This Hammer (Live)

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