As regular readers will know I really rate this band of brothers mostly on account of exciting live performances I’ve seen on Youtube. Unfortunately I’ve yet to catch them live myself; a UK tour last year was cancelled due to leader Ian Felice’s health. Since then however he has managed to release a solo album and has made some limited UK appearances to promote it, so I guess he is ok for now. But will we see the full Felice Brothers band in the UK again soon, and will they still be at the peak of their powers as demonstrated by the songs on their raw, ramshackle and invigorating 2016 album Life in the Dark? I hope the moment hasn’t passed.
Hailing from the romantically sounding Catskills Mountains region of upstate New York (it sounds romantic but is probably pretty grim) The Felice Brothers channel The Band and Bob Dylan. The Woodstock Festival was held just down the road and The Band’s famous Big Pink House, where they wrote much of Music From Big Pink and recorded Dylan’s Basement Tapes, was located in Saugerties on the Hudson River. Dylan was a famous resident of the area in the 60s but grew tired when it became overcrowded with “dropouts, druggies, moochers and goons”.
Van Morrison was a near neighbour but apparently never met Dylan much to his disappointment. This did not stop him celebrating his new found domestic rural bliss with “Brown Eyed Girl” wife Janet Planet on his Tupelo Honey album. Of course it wasn’t all that and they separated in 1973:
I had this album cover years ago, Tupelo Honey, where there was a horse in it. So the myth then was that I was living on a ranch and had horses on that ranch. I didn’t have a ranch; I didn’t have a horse. I don’t have a farm, and I never will. I mean, this is all part of the f**king mythology.
Fast forward nearly 40 years to Tonight at the Arizona and the cover of the Felice Brothers’ second proper album finds them walking across the Catskills in the snow dressed as The Band.
This record is mostly acoustic and closer to another solo Ian Felice album than some of their more recent full band outings. I bought it on the strength of the first two tracks: Roll on Arte, and The Ballad of Lou the Welterweight. Two of the Felice’s greatest ever songs.
The first is heartbreaking…
…the second starts with one of the best opening lines ever:
Powder your nose, pull off your pantyhose
Let me love you from behind, my Darling
Barnstorming live favourite T for Texas is also in the collection.
Finally, perhaps I have been too hasty condemning all Christmas music in the past (I would be only too pleased to never hear Slade, Wizard or Fairytale of New York again)—I’ve only just noticed there is a track entitled Christmas Song on this album. And, of course… it’s good.