Though the typical descriptions of The Felice Brothers’ music have centered on the throwback purity to the band’s ramshackle folk, there have always been some more idiosyncratic tendencies hanging around the shadows.
Stepping away from their roots, however, hasn’t exactly worked out for the band, particularly on the bizarre electronic turn on 2011’s Celebration, Florida. The band found their way back again on 2014’s Favorite Waitress, a transition record that sounded a bit strained and forced.
Those detours may have been necessary, some exploration leading The Felice Brothers back to their comfort zone, a space they inhabit now more joyously than ever.
In peeling things back to the band’s core, Life In The Dark makes good on both the band’s adherence to a timeless folk sound and their own eccentricities, which shine more clearly than ever as captivating strengths.
Though the subject matter of Life In The Dark deals mainly with modern struggles, the growing pains of an American generation that’s come of age in a stagnant economy and overly cynical politics, this is The Felice Brothers’ most purely fun album. There’s an excitable, off-the-cuff feel to the playing, even on the ballads, but especially the raucous barnburners like “Aerosol Ball,” “Plunder” and “Dancing On The Wing.”
Those rhyme-heavy tunes let Ian Felice indulge his penchant for ridiculous lyrics. But just when his relationship with words seems to be centered on sound more than meaning, the storyteller inspiration strikes and Felice shows he can be as sharp and vivid as anyone. “Triumph ’73,” “Diamond Bell” and “Sell The House” are stunning, character-driven narratives.
“Diamond Bell” is a particular triumph, as memorable and exceptional as anything in The Felice Brothers’ catalog. A slowly marching murder ballad, it’s a tale of “wretched tragedy,” Ian Felice’s wistful vocals matched beautifully by the intertwining accordion (James Felice) and violin (Greg Farley).
Recorded by themselves, in a garage, Life In The Dark is The Felice Brothers’ most consistent album, a potent showcase for band’s greatest strengths in both songwriting and performance.