Saturday, August 29, 2009
MIX TAPE ALBUM: Review
The Mix Tape CD has finally arrived as The Felice Brothers hit the road on the Fall leg of their world tour. I greeted this wondrous gift with subdued expectations, seeing it was likely a album of outtakes, and a gift for hardcore fans who are a small but loyal crew. Many of these songs are well known to fans who have heard some of these numbers in the live shows for months or years. Much to most fans delight will be the inclusion of longtime requested number "White Limo" on this set of nine songs. (No its not called "Cincinnati Queen"). The drums are manned, by Simone Felice (New Mexico and Captain's Wife), Dave Turbeville (Forever Green, Ahab, Let Me Come Home), and Jeremy "The Searcher" Backofen (White Limo, Marlboro Man, Marie).
The first track is a standout acoustic ballad "Forever Green" , which sounds like an older song from perhaps the Iantown era. It features beautiful fiddle from Greg Farley and some wonderful lyrics by Ian Felice, of the occupational hazards of love.
"Ahab" with Christmas taking lead vocal, follows, apparently inspired by his reading the Melville classic in the past year. Christmas compares his plight in love with the monomaniacal captain of the Pequod. "White Limo" furnished with new lyrics, is an explosive success. Unlike "Memphis Flu", from Yonder is the Clock, which mostly failed to capture the energy it had on stage and stumbled, "Limo" brings the music up to date. The best show closing number from a mainstream rock unit since "Rosalita", (and featuring a similar swirling organ frenzy) it packs a massive 3 minute wallop.
white legs, white lies, white wedding gown
just a little red to paint the town.
could you meet me at the ghetto gate(s)?
where the goons, and the grifters wait
Searcher's heavy hands provide a powerful backbeat.
A James Felice song, apparently written mostly as a teen, follows. "Let Me Come Home" cools off the listener after the barn-burning "White Limo". A mature tale of the prodigal son returning home (Luke 15:11-32) Jimmy pleads with his family for forgiveness, as his weary soul longs for their acceptance;
"My Brother, I know that i stole her,
but brother you did not own her.
Brother, you were a friend of mine,
and i thought you'd be with me on that firing line"
One of the finest songs James has written and sounds like an instant classic. "Captain's Wife" is a smokey barroom number in the vein of "Helen Fry" or "Cypress Grove", with Ian on lead vocal. Not sure if this songs heroine has any relationship to Mary Anne Patten, the 19th century wife of a ship's captain, who became a great symbol for feminism over the next 100 years, but it wouldn't be the first time Ian has tackled such a heroine, (Edith Cavell, "St. Stephens End").
"New Mexico" is a James Felice tune that likely borrows more from his major literary influences (Cormac McCarthy) than any rock and roll muse. "Blood Meridien" was a likely nicked before by Ian, (Reverend Green in "Wonderful Life") and this violent tale, also compared often to Melville's "Moby Dick" is an apparent influence. James sings it wonderfully, with Ian taking the lower register.
"17 Years" is a piano ballad that sounds like it could have been on the "Big Empty" album. Its the tale of a young friend who washes ashore in Tarrytown, Ny. Its a sad goodbye, to his friend, and youth.
"Stood outside your window, I couldn't see within
Your curtains faintly stirring like a restless living thing
i lit a smoke as morning broke
i knew it would be a while
before i find piece of mind"
"Marie" follows, with the most stunning songwriting Ian Felice has flashed since "Frankie's Gun". Like "Frankie", this number is instantly recognizable, with lyrics that are clever, funny and memorable. Each verse is sung by a different member of the band, with Greg Farley's contribution being especially delicious,
"I thought i was sharp enough,
I read Moby Dick and stuff
I guess i ain't smart enough for you,
All i'm asking you Marie
is spend one more fare on me
Give me one more night"
"Marlboro Man" from the Daytrotter Sessions, is updated here with a much spookier, electrified sound. Its another standout track. It features beautiful guitar work by Ian as well as nice accents by James and Greg.
One surprise, is the lack of inclusion of Greg Farley's standout tune, "Song for Gramps" as a tenth track. It sounds like one of their better songs, from its live performances of late and perhaps they are saving it for a more official release in the spring of 2010.
Mix Tape if it is just a series of outtakes, still has excellent continuity as the theme of unattainable love runs throughout the record. It also may be one of their best collection of songs. While it doesn't boast the unique sound of their debut album with it horn and vocal arrangements, and the brilliant production of Searcher, (in fact this album sounds as it were simply recorded live in the chicken coop studio near their home), it contains songs that will likely become a big part of the Felice Brothers history. Mostly it shows why they are quickly becoming an American treasure, this is their 5th release in the last 3 years, and the second album in six months. They are not caught up in the hype that surrounds the band, or building cults of personality, they are keeping it "real", doing one for the fans, again, and moving on down the road.
-special thanks to a certain person who helped with some of the details that i missed.