Monday, April 6, 2009
New York Times Review: Yonder is the Clock
THE FELICE BROTHERS
“Yonder Is the Clock”
Death and disaster loom in the songs on the Felice Brothers’ latest album, “Yonder Is the Clock.” That’s not new for this Americana band, which includes three brothers from the Catskills town of Palenville, N.Y.: Ian Felice on guitar and lead vocals, James on keyboards and Simone on drums.
Starting with their 2006 debut album, “Through These Reins and Gone,” the Felice Brothers have come up with surreal story-songs about drinking, drugs, heartache and firearms, with hints of a Christian search for faith. Their previous albums were largely on the somber side, steeped in the upstate gravity of the Band.
But on “Yonder Is the Clock,” the Felice Brothers loosen up, making room for absurdity as well as the travails they sing about. The opening song, “The Big Surprise,” holds both; the only sure thing is that the surprise won’t be a happy one.
With a voice that’s in the wheezy territory of Bob Dylan, sometimes straying toward Tom Waits, Ian Felice can sound haggard and weary or so punch-drunk that nothing could faze him further. “I died in Penn Station tonight,” he sings in “Penn Station,” with his voice leaping into a wobbly falsetto on “died.” He has to choose between trains bound for heaven or hell.
In “Chicken Wire” he sings, “Very soon I will be/In the deep blue sea/Wrapped in chicken wire/By my own device,” to a shuffle beat that clatters and ratchets as if the words were much more jovial. The dangerous characters in “Run Chicken Run” — “She’s the fairest of them all/She loves her Adderall/She’s kicking out the windows of your car” — arrive with a rockabilly backbeat, pumping accordion and hints of Cajun fiddle.
There are slower songs too, haunted by mortality, like “Sailor Song,” a waltz about the toll of war, or “Ambulance Man” and “Rise and Shine,” two deathbed vigils. They’re as serious as ever, but less steadfastly morose. On “Yonder Is the Clock,” it seems, there’s always a honky-tonk just down the road from the hospital.