Higher Ground, South Burlington, VT 4/11/09
By Doug Collette
April 22, 2009
On the Felice Brothers' most recent appearance at Higher Ground, these siblings from New York’s Catskill Mountains picked up right where they left off from last September at Higher Ground.
Well, almost. No doubt they kept the crowd aroused with uproarious drinking songs like "Whisky in My Whiskey" (though a cross section of the audience left during more subdued tunes like "Helen Fry"). And the quintet was savvy enough to finish their set with two of the more upbeat tunes ("Penn Station" and "Run Chicken Run”) from the splendid new recording Yonder Is the Clock, just prior to which that had tendered two tunes rife with biblical images that, appropriate for the eve of Easter Sunday, nevertheless was not what the 125 or so attendees had been doting on.
But this reciprocal love affair waxed more than waned under a full moon outside. The Felices’ engendered a rabid response because their music radiates such an earthy authenticity: the quintet utilizes washboard, fiddle and accordion combined with icy organ tones to maintain sparse textures of folk, country and blues. And there’s a deceptive simplicity to their songs that mirrors the Brothers’ eccentric attitude: the opening tune, "The Big Surprise," may have caught the audience off-guard, but the cinematic quality of the lyrics, finding voice in front-man Ian's singing and guarded demeanor, was inescapable.
As it was much of the night when the band’s chief vocalist stepped atop the drums to sing, flailed at his antique electric guitar in a paroxysm of emotion or deferred to his burly good-natured brother James for comic relief as the latter led a sing-along on "Where'd You get Your Liquor From?”
Whether or not it gives you pause to consider why so many of this young band's songs contain recurring references to death (“St Stephen's End”), guns (“Hey Hey Revolver”) and alcohol (the two aforementioned), the fact of the matter is the quintet--even without brother Simone who's on a temporary leave from touring -perform in such a disarming fashion, Felice Brothers can charm you wholly and completely into their world.