The thousands of bands and artists whom cite Bob Dylan as an influence are just that, thousands and thousands. And a multitude more will never cite him but will fill every crevice of their music with his masterful presence and influence. The Felice Brothers are a breath of whirling fresh air with their twisted stories about betrayal, relationships, humanity and even, sports. For a band that sounds like the kind of music Dylan would be proud of, they have every reason to be proud themselves.
They’ve steadily and all the while, quietly, have built a solid following by releasing an album of stellar music every year since 2006. And now, with Yonder is the Clock, they’ve resoundingly made it four in a row – and my, what a gift it is. You see, the four brothers Simone, Ian and James with longtime friends and fellow bandmembers, Greg Farley and Christmas Clapton, enrich their music with a passion and musicianship that recalls everything that’s amazing about Americana: the ghosts of greats like Hank Williams, the blistered love of Tom Waits and even the tenacity of Uncle Tupelo.
Recorded in a building that was built around the remains of a chicken coop, these five band members create thrillingly fantastic music that’s as equally affective musically as it is lyrically. You can take the love lost bitterness of “Katie Dear,” that finds all of the members singing behind Ian’s wispily whiskey-soaked vocals and follow it with “Run Chicken Run,” a song that weaves its complicated story around twirling violin, forceful accordion and bursting drums and you’d be set. This one-two punch, neatly nestled in the heart of the album is at the very foundation: the kind of music that shocks you to your core. Poignant, stirring and stunning, it’s an amazing feat.
The meaning behind Yonder is the Clock comes from the pages of Mark Twain and it only further encompasses the band’s rich and traditional take on Americana. The band’s music shan’t be pigeonholed into a problematic genre like folk because there is far too much going on here. Even the album’s slower gems that focus the attention on the words are paired with mesmerizing music that’s rousing. “The Big Surprise” layers its sounds with a few drum spats, a ranging guitar and the slow roll of pedal tones while Ian sings about how “the jazzy band has lost its swing” and how “all your love has been a lie,” you’d think that just because you back yourself with such trademarks that you’d be able to comfortably abscond it all but for The Felice Brothers, this is about making music for a greater role.
And it just seems to come natural to them, every bit of their heart and soul is spread out in a cool amount of warmth and tenderness. Whether it’s the brooding roam of “Boy From Lawrence County” with its powerful message, or the spook and charm of “Sailor Song,” with its entirely own message of deceit and regret (this is where Waits is most felt,) each song possesses its own special destination with its own special journey and road to follow.
Furthermore, it’s amazing how everything just seems to be pieced together, as if it was all meant to be. A few weeks ago when I was in Austin for their excellent music festival, these guys were sandwiched in between Deer Tick and Grizzly Bear at a stage I was tented out at. I use that wording because it had been raining all day and in order to get a good spot you need to fight it out near the front. I was intrigued but never anticipated such extraordinary results. When The Felice Brothers took the stage, I was transformed to another place and it was a glorious feeling; hopefully you can take their music in some kind of live setting but for now, they’ve placed everything that’s superb about them and have delivered it ten-fold with Yonder is the Clock.
“Run Chicken Run” by The Felice Brothers