Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Felice Brothers At ACL

by John T. Davis LINK

The multitudes were soggy but, well, multitudinous. “We’re not used to playing for so many people,” exclaimed one of the Felice Brothers, surveying the poncho-ed horde in front of the Dell Stage Saturday afternoon. “Holy (expletive), that’s a lot of people. Give yourselves a hand!”

Obviously, the acclaim drawn by the trio of brothers from upstage New York in their short but prolific recording career (four albums in four years) preceded them.

Onstage, they revealed a more muscular and assertive sound than their albums hint at. A fiddle and accordion scraped and sang in alternating harmony and counterpoint, while David Turbeville’s drums modulated from a rustle to a rumble, depending on the song.

A product of the same environment that bred the Band and Bob Dylan (and yes, those comparisons must get tiresome, but, guys, there are worse touchstones), the brothers borrow some of the same back-hollow imagery, with its antecedent roots of murder, strong drink and hardscrabble origins that Dylan and Co. have often employed. “Frankie’s Gun” (that rarity, a singalong murder ballad), “Murder By Mistletoe” and “Greatest Show On Earth” are all replete with images of violence, sometimes juxtaposed against flashes of natural beauty and human frailty. “Put a pistol in my hands if we’re going out to dance,” they sang at one point, epitomizing the tension that illuminates many of their songs.

Softer moments and onstage good humor balanced the bleakness of some of the folk-noir numbers. “Cooperstown” was a wonderful mood piece that followed the shade of Ty Cobb through a ghostly ballpark. And the band was perfectly capable of rendering a heartfelt Woody Guthrie-style paean to brotherhood called “Take This Bread” and following it shortly thereafter with a song introduction that ran thus: “This is a song about weird sex in the back of a limousine. A big, white limousine.” Take that, Woody.

Jay Janner photo