Friday, August 14, 2009
AmericanaUK: Nothing Gold Can Stay is Superb
""All our days are just so many waves in the wind"
Erstwhile Felice Brothers Drummer/Vocalist Simon Felice, along with new cohort Robert ‘Chicken’ Burke have mined a rich vein of American storytelling for their debut album (Their Moniker comes from some troublemaking Mark Twain characters for a start).
As has been widely reported already, ‘Nothing Gold Can Stay’ had the saddest genesis imaginable, when Felice and his partner lost the child they were expecting. Prompting something of a life-changing rethink, he quit his sibling’s band just as their popularity approaches an all-time high, and started bravely down a new path. The sense of transience and uncertainty is evident in these thoughtful, wonderfully written songs, but while he may have had every right to let his grief flood these narratives, instead they are imbued with a bright, spacious soul, some regrets but also optimism. The reflection and sadness are outward-looking, aimed more generally at the loss of innocence and more importantly, other people’s lives circling in doubt and inevitable transience.
Felice fans will note that the wonderfully rambunctious grooves of the Brothers have been polished and transformed into spacious, dusty and understated country-soul. Felice’s own vocal here is softer, an understated and emotive croon that surfs perfectly over the top of these careful, sparsely constructed natural feeling songs.
The overall sound is supremely sun-kissed, with swathes of high harmonies shadowing Felice’s every beautiful melodic twist. It is, surprisingly, ‘70s west coast FM rock that seems to be a constant sonic reference (perhaps for nostalgia's sake), though often with enough of a modern rhythmic feel to never feel unsure as to which decade this record was made. That being the case though, some of the strongest (if softer) moments on the album such as ‘Union Street’ have a dark heart lurking not far from the surface “You were the prettiest girl around, but your Ma was a druggy and she kicked you around”
Dusty ballad ‘If You Ever Get Famous’ is fragile & poignant, opening the album with a lump already in it’s throat as in the first couplet Felice begs not to be forgotten amongst the ephemera of someone else’s life moving on. ‘The Morning I get to Hell’ is another quietly spectacular moment, tackling mortality with some grace and wit.
‘Lose Myself’ is all hook and no song, before almost exploding (or rather, erm, losing itself) in a fit of noise, quickly gives way to ‘Suzanne’, certainly the most straight ahead unrepentant soul groove on the album. Elsewhere the cracked and fragile cornerstone ‘One More American Song’ closes the album with tragic tales of ordinary folk returning damaged from the war.
An album about loss, hope, longing, regret, optimism and growing up that doesn’t, despite its languid pace, waste a precious second.
In a word, Superb.