The Felice Brothers are differentiated from most popular music by their use of nontraditional instruments like accordions, washboards and fiddles. They are defined by a lead singer with a striking vocal resemblance to Bob Dylan. They are elevated beyond most other popular music by the quality of their songwriting.
In a lot of modern popular music, artists seem content to write lyrics that rhyme and fall into a standard rhythm. The Felice Brothers give their lyrics much more attention and the quality comes through on their tracks. The lyrics on their recently released Mix Tape are not their strongest songwriting performance but remain miles ahead of plenty of other, more popular, artists.
The CD was born as a collection of cut tracks from the band’s previous studio album, Yonder is the Clock, to be given to fans for free at shows. Predictably, the band’s label, Team Love, caught wind of this and decided that the album should have be commercially released.
After listening to both Yonder and Mix Tape, it is hard to argue that many of the cut tracks should have been left on the album. Both the music and lyrics of the former are generally superior to the latter. That is not to say that Mix Tape does not include great examples of both.
The lyrics feature alliteration and internal rhyme not usually found in popular music, but instead reserved more for poetry and other literature. Additionally the Felice Brothers demonstrate a great awareness of the lyrical meter and a willingness to play with it. An obvious example would be the track “White Limo,” which chugs along at a lively rhythm reminiscent of a hoedown and features similarly energetic lyrics. Ian Felice wails the chorus with the power of Roger Daltrey, energy of Prince and the strain of Stevie Ray Vaughan. “White legs, white lies, white wedding gown/just a little red to paint the town,” exemplifies the Felice Brother’s style and the fun they have with their music.
Overall, the Mix Tape CD is not the best material the Felice Brothers have ever put out, but it is certainly more compelling than the majority of popular music. The instrumentation, rhythm and lyrics combine to create complexities that most artists are not capable of while the narrative style of most of their songs keeps them accessible to a large audience.