Saturday, February 27, 2010

Review of Simone's Solo Show at Hawley Arms

With 2009's Nothing Gold Can Stay The Duke and the King brought a soulfulness reminiscent of the folk troubadours of the 70's. Somewhere between Marvin Gaye, Neil Young, Cat Stevens and James Taylor is where their style lies. In other parts traditional campfire folk songs seem to inspire "The Morning I Get to Hell" such is the wisdom they spread on life and there after in this track alone:"They play me my life on a TV so I'd see it all/Everything I'd never tell/'Till I'm begging the anchorman for my one phonecall"

So on Monday night Simone Felice returned to Camden's Hawley Arms, having last made an appearance here in November. With a stool in the corner of the tiny top room of this famous venue, a couple of wine bottles holding trickling candles, man and guitar stepped out, engaged in mild banter before launching into a beautiful cover of Pink Floyd's "Brain Damage".

Interaction with the crowd was all in good humour; some American guys begging for a rendition of the prison work song "Take This Hammer" sparked a raucous improv and we all joined in on request of the artist on "The Morning I Get to Hell". You felt as if you were in the front room of a great friend, which in fact Simone was as he thanked his friend, the Hawley Arms manager, for allowing the night to happen.

Over the evening we were presented with Felice Brothers favourites "Don't Wake the Scarecrow", "Your Belly in My Arms" and "Ruby Mae", which when stripped to their very bones reveal the true genius of songwriting and storytelling at hand. It is this blend of the often macabre folk story offset with Felice's flawless vocals which creates an atmosphere of such unbearable poignancy. In his ability to transform something tragic into, for a fleeting second, a thing of beauty, we are consistently left astounded; and in debuting "New York Times", in which he shrouds the massacre of a ballet class in floral metaphors: "turn[ing] the white muslin into bright red bloom", we are left in awe at his understanding of beauty and tragedy and how closely he can paint the two.

There is little this artist cannot turn his hand at: a published poet in his twenties, and now working on his third novella, of which he showcased a little, he deals in topical issues in a traditional way. Reading a war poem entitled "Today in the Desert" taken from Poems of the Desert by the Men of the 8th Army (1944) he followed this with The Duke and the King's "One More American Song", a similar kind of war poem for our times in Iraq and Afghanistan. The protagonist of the song, "John of bottle tops", is also the outline for the central figure in Felice's new novel surrounding the life of a blinded ex-troop upon his return from Iraq.

The show closed with Neil Young's "Long May You Run", which Simone seemed humourously saddened to learn was actually an ode to an automobile. In sandwiching his own material between Pink Floyd, a rendition of Townes van Zandt's "To Live is to Fly", and Young, Simone Felice shows he is as much of a songwriter as the old masters. His own works fit in here as effortlessly as if he had played a full set of covers, their timeless quality and traditional sound resonating in the candlelit room, his stories of the forgotten ghosts of New York State echoing through to modern times.