The Felice Brothers will release Yonder Is The Clock on April 7th. The album gleans its title from a line in Mark Twain’s posthumously published novella The Mysterious Stranger, and the satire’s gloomy tone greatly influenced the construct of this new song cycle. Whereas the band’s brilliant self-titled release (my #3 of ’08) burst in with guns blazing and tempered its brief moments of melancholia with gorgeously eerie sidewinders like “Greatest Show On Earth” and “Frankie’s Gun”, Yonder Is The Clock instead peppers a few barnburners into what is otherwise a bleak and barren landscape of sound. If The Felice Brothers was the Wild West, this new album is on the verge of The Great Depression.
Songs like the opener “The Big Surprise” and “Boy From Lawrence County” (about greed, temptation, and Jesse James) have that resigned tone that lies just this side of despair. While I certainly prefer the more bombastic tracks, the Brothers put enough quirks, clicks, and clangs into these slower arrangements to lift them up above the forlorn indie fray. And there’s that certain grit to Ian Felice’s voice – like Dylan, Waits, and Cave – that can (but doesn’t always) pour a deluge of life into the most somber tunes.
However, other songs (cases in point: “Sailor Song” and “All When We Were Young”) are so weary and weighed down vocally that not even the most innovative of instrumental flourishes could keep them afloat. I don’t know if a Western-Emo genre actually exists, but these songs would fit into it if so.
Lyrically and perhaps artistically as a whole, Yonder Is The Clock is a little more cohesive than the band’s previous release and may garner higher praise from other writers. But it’s not nearly as charming or memorable for this particular listener. It’s exactly like the difference between Old Crow Medicine Show’s Big Iron World and Tennessee Pusher. Both are excellent albums that wipe the floor with any release by inferior acts. But in a side by side comparison, there is a clear distinction: One ends up on my all-time favorites list, while the other gathers dust on my shelf.
Yet there are certainly other tracks that are stunning enough to stand out even to cynical ole me. “Penn Station” strikes up the band, dipping down into gravel-voiced dejection in the verses and rising with grand harmony on the chorus. The boys even manage to imitate the hustle and bustle of a busy train station in the latter half of the song.
And the uptempo twangers “Chicken Wire”, “Run Chicken Run” (which I first posted last week), and the cover of “Memphis Flu” recall the floor shakin’ ruckus of the band’s previous release, and show that often a robust arrangement and vigorous performance can deliver a serious message even more effectively than a dower ballad.
The Felice Brothers – Run Chicken Run (mp3) *
*mp3 hosted by & posted w/ permission of label
The Felice Brothers Official Site
Pre-order @ Amazon