Album review

Simone Felice - Simone Felice

Simone Felice - Simone Felice

After undergoing emergency open-heart surgery in 2010, Simone Felice appears to have taken solace in first principles. Having stepped away from the Felice Brothers in 2009 and put The Duke & The King on hiatus, his solo debut is simple and earthy, leaning on little more than organ, warm acoustic guitar and his wondrous singing, every note carrying the betraying quaver of a man who feels a little too much.

Felice’s voice has a devotional quality and the music here is often similarly hymnal. Recorded in an old church, a barn in the woods and a disused school, the songs are full of space. The funky edges and pop mischief evident on The Duke & The King’s two albums are almost entirely gone, replaced by a quiet, powerful intensity which sometimes recalls the work of another drummer-gone-solo, former Fleet Fox Joshua Tillman.

The rousing gospel-blues of “You & I Belong”, with its handclaps and unison singing, is an anomaly. More often Felice is trying desperately to keep a bad world at bay. On “New York Times”, a haunting piano ballad, he lifts a litany of ills – the fate of an American Indian, the Iraqi dead, coke deals, a child-killer – from the front page and places them squarely on his own shoulders. “Charade”, six minutes of voice and bare-boned acoustic guitar, is riveting yet painfully raw. The school girls’ choir and churchy organ on “Hey Bobby Ray” can’t disguise a palpable intimation of dread.

Elsewhere the mood is elegiac. Felice ponders the fate of childhood friends on “Dawn Brady’s Son” and the gorgeous, soulful “Stormy-Eyed Sarah”; on “Ballad Of Sharon Tate” and “Courtney Love”, on which the Hole singer becomes a totem for every reckless move any of us have made, he laments those doomed by dark infamy. The closing “Splendor In The Grass”, swept by viola, is ultimately affirming, yet acknowledges that being “one step away from her is a small death”.
Graeme Thomson

Rating: 8 / 10

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