Saturday, May 31, 2008

Live Music Review: The Felice Brothers (plus Sarah Borges and the Broken Singles) at The Cluny, Newcastle, 24/05/08

First up tonight, in a special Bank Holiday/Evolution Festival double bill, were Massachusetts' (try saying that after you have sunk a few beers!) Sarah Borges and The Broken Singles, joining us for the final show of their current UK tour. I'm going to put my neck on the line here and front up to the fact that I was underwhelmed. To me, although polished, this just sounded like relatively formulaic country-rock. Whilst Borges undeniably has a good voice, there was just a bit too much 'show' in this show for my tastes – Borges seemed to be in 'perform mode' and just didn't look relaxed enough to truly get into the music. The set was definitely not terrible, but nor did it leave me with any warm, fuzzy feelings. And therefore I shall move on...
Second act The Felice Brothers could hardly have been more different. If it is possible for music to sound 'scruffy', these fellas have it. Gloriously scruffy, ramshackle and uproarious. Hell, the rumours even claim that their first album, the now hard-to-find 'The Adventures of the Felice Brothers, Vol. 1', was recorded in a chicken coop! Brothers Ian, James and Simone Felice, along with pals Farley and Christmas, create a country-rock/Americana sound than is damn near irresistible.
Ian Felice takes the majority of lead vocals (and guitar), with Jimmy (accordion) and Simone (drums) stepping into the breach from time to time. Farley brings us washboard and fiddle, and Christmas, apparently the strong, silent type, backs it all up with his bass.
This is drinking music, designed to be played in bars (a nice fit for the atmosphere of The Cluny, then!)...they even have a song called 'Whiskey in My Whiskey'. Semi-ordered chaos, as they juggle instruments and vie for space on stage results in, fortunately, not disaster but great music and a whole heap of fun. And we got to be the first to catch this riotous melee, as this was the first date on their UK tour.
Hailing from upstate New York's Catskill Mountains, not far from Woodstock, the obvious comparisons to The Band all ring true, but these guys are not just some sort of mediocre tribute act. Other influences including Townes Van Zandt, The Byrds and possibly even The Avett Brothers combine with their own unique outlook and personality to bring us something respectful to outlaw country tradition, and yet somehow simultaneously fresh and new.
Whilst Ian is generally the front man, Jimmy is perhaps the most easy to to relate to from the floor, and Simone looks like some kind of crazed and wild-eyed cat. It was, however, tea and not stronger stuff that he was asking around for before the gig! Which may have been the reason for the following song introduction from him: “This is a song about famine and pestilence...and I have to go pee”!
Song highlights included Frankie's Gun, which has been causing something of a stir in the blogging world so far this year, Ballad of Lou the Welterweight and Ruby Mae. Relaxed and unpretentious, this gig was entertaining to the end, when they finished on a spiritual which had me tapping my foot throughout. Good, although perhaps not so clean, fun!

mp3:Frankie's Gun - The Felice Brothers

mp3:Ruby Mae - The Felice Brothers

mp3:Hey Hey Revolver - The Felice Brothers

Listen to The Felice Brothers at MySpace (listen to Sarah Borges at MySpace, if you want, too).
Buy their eponymous album here.
You can also find my reviews of this, Tift Merritt and Chatham County Line at the Jumpin' Hot Club website reviews page.

No comments: