On a night full of options across town for folk-rock fans, Adam Haworth Stephens and The Felice Brothers spun jangly alt-country tales riddled with misadventure for an enthusiastic, sold out crowd inside Emo’s on Friday. Stephens is one half of the minimalist production that is/was Two Gallants. He recently released a solo album, We Live On Cliffs, and hit the road with a three-piece backing band, which consists of Jen Grady (bass and cello), Matt Montgomery (keys), and Omar Cuellar (drums).
Stephens’ appears as a traditional folk artist as he comes to stage with a harmonica brace and acoustic guitar in hand. He begins the set with “The Cities That You’ve Burned,” a track recently praised by NPR and featured on their Song Of The Day. The San Francisco based singer/songwriter consistently proves himself as a prolific lyricist and talented guitarist.
Stephens' introspective tales of turbulence and torment continue with, “Your Witness,” and “Lead in Our Lungs.” It’s clear that this solo project highlights his country-tinged comfort zone. His tone is poignant as words tremble upon the accompanying instrumentals. The addition of his backing band softens and balances his bittersweet, earnest lyrical content. For their final song the band switches gears into a waltzy cover of Wilson Pickett’s “I Found A Love,” with Stephens adjusting his vocals to a wailing falsetto.
The Felice Brothers are up next. The enthusiastic five-piece ensemble hail from upstate New York and carry with them rustic folklore that come to life through their gritty brand of Americana. They plunge into their ramshackle, alt-country set with “The Greatest Show on Earth.” Ian Felice’s voice quivers as big brother James Felice rocks the jangling keys and Greg Farley jumps around playing the fiddle. Christmas Clapton and David Turbeville keep the beat on bass and drums, respectively.
The boys continue with “Marlboro Man” and “White Limousine” before testing out some new material including “Royal Hawaiian Hotel.” The troop of brothers (a couple genetic, all fraternal) take turns on the mic, join together for harmonious singalongs, swap instruments, stomp and dance around the stage with contagious energy. Their multi-instrumental, animated production has a winning, home-style feel. Their songs skip along from the stripped-down, heart-wrenching ballad “Goddamn You, Jim,” to a crowd singalong of “It’s A Wonderful Life,” the boot-stomping, clap-along “Take This Bread,” and the washboard-heavy, fan favorite “Frankie’s Gun!” The crowd is damn near giddy as the band reduces to Ian and Christmas for “Saint Stephen’s End” before regrouping to bang out all the energy they can muster for their final song, “Whiskey In My Whiskey.”
The Felice Brothers’ latest release, last year’s Yonder The Clock demonstrates their heavy lyrical content laced with tales of hard women, drunkenness, incarceration, brothels and barroom bets. Their spirit may sound battered, but never broken. In a mere five years The Felice Brothers have come up from backyards and NYC subway performances to world tours. Their hustling has served them well. They’ve released seven albums, appeared at The Newport Folk Festival and toured with Conor Oberst, The Drive-By Truckers, Deer Tick and now, Adam Haworth Stephens.