There is a fucked up strange intensity in photos of Simone Felice that somehow reminds me of the Back from ‘Nam characters that populate the brilliant novels of Tim O’Brien [Read them if you like war stories: especially “If I die In A Combat Zone” although here I’m referencing “In the Lake Of The Woods”]. Maybe it’s to do with his near death moments or just his passion for the music he makes – who knows, and we aren’t analysts. But that uneasy edge isn’t at all at odds with his music.
The two albums (and the excellent live album that’s available direct from his website) he has made since the wonderful country-soul of his The Duke & The King Project are stripped back, intense singer songwriter affairs with strong echoes of Dylan and of country and gospel music. To me they feel a little like demos – song structures and outlines that other people might later populate and interpret and even have hits with. But in his hands they are almost too edgy. In this way they are a little akin to the brilliant white soul Fame demos of Dan Penn which stayed as legend for decades until Ace Records finally persuaded him to release them.
I want to tell you this is high praise as you’ll find if you bother to explore Penn’s brilliant guide vocal takes on soul classics like “I’m Your Puppet”, “You Left the Water Running” and “It Tears Me Up”.
Anyway, I digress and to return to Felice, these albums – with their intense bus depot characters and their various pill habits – are stripped back and raw and great. And this is especially true of the new one “Strangers” which feels one step on from the piercing story songs of “Simone Felice” especially on songs like “Our Lady of the Gun” where the uncomfortable parallel between school shooters and Marines is elegantly drawn. I like Felice’s comment that:
“ we all seem to possess the need to lose ourselves from time to time by whichever vehicle: Love, pills, technology, booze, lust, music… pick your poison.”
It sums up his “thing”.
A lot of people make a lot of noise about how great Townes Van Zandt was, but of course they didn’t say it until he was already dead (RIP). I am not totally one of them as I find his rawness almost unbearably painful to listen too, amazing though it is – more poet, than singer. I just don’t enjoy listening to that much hurt and prefer it when others tackle his almost perfectly formed songs. It’s a big call but I’m going to suggest Felice may be in a similar bracket so if your thing is raw Americana (and you already have the John Murray record ”The Graceless Age”) make sure you hear Simone’s new joint. Something good is happening there.
[nb. Molly-O (below) leads the album off in Dylanesque fashion. Its more jaunty than the rest. Still excellent so taste it, but not everything I’m talking about here.]
[nb2. Felice is a music lover too. I love his choices of favourite songs in a recent Uncut magazine and his description of THIS as “a great song by an evil band”! As he says “that perfect weird cosmic rock alignment where an unquestionably evil band .. and honest, gritty poetry collide”. Awesome. And we think he’s right btw.]