The Felice Brothers: Celebration, Florida (Spunk)

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Felice Brothers: Oliver Stone
The Felice Brothers: Celebration, Florida (Spunk)

While it's interesting to read in a promo slip that this new album by the so-far fascinating Felice Brothers "casts scenes of dreamy characters and stories interwoven like a block of primetime TV", this is promo-hype.

It presumes you will actually be engaged enough to listen with unswerving intensity through the sonic haze of distant voices, lo-fi folk-tropes and ramshackle folk-blues which seems to peel off from Dylan and the Band's rural Basement Tapes and throw the ideas into a contemporary and sometimes political urban setting.

So frankly, this is a tough call.

But -- and it's a similar "but" as from those who heard Dylan/Band for what it was back in the day when, as we are obliged to remember, the world had gone from hippie optimism to early Seventies cynicism in a few short years -- this is an album which does reward closer and closer attention.

But . . . it is still a tough call if you come expecting songs you can whistle.

This is about moods, cinematic shorthand which creates environments and swerving songs which skid from shoe-gazing folk to horn-punctured rock-funk (not funk-rock) in the blink of a jaded eye.

If you know anything of the built-from-scratch town of Celebration in Florida -- a high-tech, fully-wired Andy Griffith Show/Mayberry conceived by the Disney Company, about which I know rather too much -- you probably won't see the connection. This isn't an album like Bright Eyes' Cassadaga about another unusual American town.

But  . . . over repeat plays the peculiar musical structures and small themes, which are initially lost in the broad scope, reveal themselves. It might take until the wearily dreamy and beautifully Dylanesque ballad Oliver Stone -- four tracks in, which follows Honda Civic -- before the contemporary Americana ideas come into focus.

Some of this is like the young Beck re-imagined through the prism of the Basement Tapes and Neil Young's On the Beach (Cus's Catskills Gym, which fight fans will know).

Or as if the on-stage entertainment in a crowded cinema has to change its set because they've just realised the owners are showing The Grapes of Wrath to a matinee stoner audience which thought it was in for the Band's Last Waltz.

Those kinds of odd juxtapositions (and musical too, from raw folk to synths) are all here, and so too are songs entitled Ponzi ("your name on the Foxfire News, turn on the TV . . . how could it end this way . . . at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel") and Dallas, an acoustic ballad which sounds recorded in a 2am bar at a broke-down upright piano. Maybe on the night Kennedy was killed just around the corner.

And odd and intense 48 minutes.

But . . . 

With patience and understanding this could easily move from the album you just don't get to your "best of the year" list.

It's doing that for me. Gradually.

Like the sound of this? Then check out this.

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The Riverboat Captain - May 12, 2011

OK, you've got me, this is one I am definitely going to have to check out. On The Beach, Basement Tapes.. a touch of Greendale perhaps?

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