And on we go with the judges' discussions. Today: The Felice Brothers. Tomorrow: Fleet Foxes.
And on we go with the judges’ discussions. Today: The Felice Brothers. Tomorrow: Fleet Foxes.
Mark Radcliffe: I love The Felice Brothers. It’s practically The Band, isn’t it? Let’s be honest.
Tony Wadsworth: It’s Cahoots by The Band. Let’s be specific, it’s one album.
Mark: I think this is a far, far better record than the first one they made, which completely died out after the first few tracks. I love that sharecropper-dustbowl thing that they seem to be steeped in. I absolutely love it; “Greatest Show On Earth”, “Frankie’s Gun”, I think there are fabulous songs on it. Ultimately, why it might fall short for the prize, for the very top of my list, is that you can’t really escape the fact that it’s been done before, and to what degree it’s some kind of facsimile of a whole musical sound and experience and lifestyle. I’m not quite sure how honest a record it is, though I think it’s beautiful and I think they’re absolutely engaging and intoxicating. I think it’s an absolutely marvellous record, I really do, I can barely speak highly enough of it, although there are things of which I think more highly.
Allan Jones: Do you think The Band comparisons, which they’ve obviously encouraged by the picture on the front of the first album, tends to overshadow an appreciation of how good and unique some of those songs are?
Mark: Maybe, because it’s an easy reference point to make. If they’d dressed in PVC silver jumpsuits it’d be more like “where the fuck’s that coming from?”, wouldn’t it? But because they dress like that, if you’d heard the Felice Brothers without seeing them that’s exactly what you’d expect. It’s exactly how you’d feel it should be. We’re criticising it for being the whole package, but it’s wonderfully done.
Tony: Actually, seeing as you’re talking visuals… shit sleeve.
Danny Kelly: Yeah, shittest sleeve of the ones we had to judge.
Mark (holding up the Vampire Weekend CD): It’s not fuckin’ worse than that, Tony! That’s just nothing. That is actively shite.
Allan: They look so great, they’ve all got great features, you’d think they’d put a really great picture on the sleeve.
Mark: I love it, though. It’s probably coming in second or third for me.
Danny: Everything that Mark says about the record is true, it’s a lovely record. I can’t say it’s going to be one of my favourites, if we’re talking in those terms. The arguments you end up having with yourself about which Band LP it sounds like I actually found a bit distracting in the end. It is amazing for a group to be so influenced by one sound, but if you’re gonna do that it might as well be by something as beautiful as they have been.
On the other hand, though, I don’t think they’re helping themselves. Their feel for their own indigenous music is not served by this very narrow view they’re presenting of themselves. I think they’re better than they give out from the visuals. I loved “Frankie’s Gun”, but I remember listening to it and thinking I need to get hold of Allan Jones, because only one person in Britain will know exactly where we are on the carousel of influence and re-influence here. Obviously, Bruce Springsteen would not have made The Seeger Sessions if there had not been this astonishing recovery of alternative indigenous music in the United States over the last 15 years. Then, The Felice Brothers hear it, and I’m lost now on where we are on the re-influencing.
I think it’s a lovely record, I think if you’d never heard the things that influenced it you’d still think it was a lovely record, and that’s very important. Not my winner, but I’ll definitely go and see them the next time they’re in this country because I love to see people do this stuff in real time with their breath in the air.
Linda Thompson: I agree about all The Band stuff. The lyrics are good, it’s very well played, I’d very much like to see them live. I found myself doing other things when I was listening to it, and that’s never a good sign for me. So, I liked it but I didn’t love it.
Danny: There are some very lovely lyrics, but after the whole LP I got the distinct feeling that they’d fed the original lyrics through some kind of computer programme that takes out any word that makes you think the record could have been made in the last 25 years. There’s no songs about mobile phones on it, are there? They could be a little more open in what they write, and in the way they write.
Allan: It’s an interesting point that there are no contemporary reference points in there, but I didn’t miss that, because it felt like they were writing about fairly current things. Even a song like “Frankie’s Gun”, where you get the idea it’s about bootleggers, but they’re probably on a crystal meth run. There’s a contemporary content there, which they don’t naturally reference, and it fits in with this whole school of American fiction, people like Daniel Woodrell. You think he’s writing about the past but you then realise he’s writing about the almost immediate present. It gives them a really frightening quality, because you realise there are still these communities where they don’t have mobile phones. But I think some of the songwriting on it is really amazing.
Tony: I love it, I think it is a fantastic album. I just wish that it didn’t wear its influences so much. It doesn’t wear them on its sleeve, they’re tattooed on its arm! Danny’s point is a really good point; there are no contemporary references in the lyrics. Even Bob Dylan on his last album mentioned Alicia Keys…
Danny: Thus giving Jack White permission to go and make a record with her.
Tony: But it’s refreshing when someone who is the epitome of this sort of music is doing that. You wish that they had maybe more ambition to add to their influences, but they do them so, so well and you actually ask yourself does it matter? Should it matter? I think it’s only because we’re trying to judge a winner here that it does matter. Mark obviously really really loves the album but isn’t going to make it his winner, and I’m sort of like that as well.
I think the reason why I prefer Elbow to this, in this context, is because Elbow isn’t copying one particular genre. I mean, they even copy arrangements, there’s one song that starts like “When I Paint My Masterpiece”, it fades in and you just think they’ve copied one specific arrangement of one specific Band song. Even the horns are Band-influenced because they’ve used Allen Toussaint to arrange them. I just wish they could add to those influences. But it is a beautiful and enjoyable record, and it’s a revelation to me because I didn’t know their music until we were given this opportunity, so thank you for introducing me to The Felice Brothers.
Alison Howe: My colleague Mark Cooper will be very disappointed in me when I tell you that I’ve never listened to The Band. So I don’t come from the reference point of view at all, I knew nothing about where they might have borrowed from. I enjoyed it, the first half more than the second, maybe the novelty started to wear off, but about seven or eight songs in I’d had enough and I’d got the point.