MONDAY, APRIL 27, 2009|
The Felice Brothers got their start playing stripped down folk music in the middle of commuter dense New York subway stations in the early 2000s. Their latest offering, Yonder is the Clock, offers a less portable but richer, more filled out brand of the same country blues and storytelling The Felice Brothers have built their body of work upon. While it's inevitable that modern folk acts get held against the barometer of Bob Dylan and the Band's inimitable shadow, The Felice Brothers seem more welcoming of the challenge than most-- from Yonder's song structures, to the nasally vocal inflections, to the resonating twang of gospel tinged bravado, everything here is very much Blonde on Blonde-ish from the outset, which can be either a very good comparison or an extremely detrimental one, depending on what you're trying to do.
In this case, Yonder is the Clock holds up well against the daunting comparisons-- the Felice Brothers do a wonderful job of casting themselves in Dylan's musical silhouette without overstepping its storied boundaries. "Big Surprise" opens the album and borrows a few pages of melody from Bringing it All Back Home's "She Belongs to Me" and is a faithful introduction to their sound. "Penn Station" is a lamentative piece with an extremely addictive, cigarette scratchy chorus that aptly repeats: "Well I died in Penn Station tonight" until it burrows into your memory and you find yourself humming along. "Katie Dear" is a sad and cadenced country song in the truest of senses that tugs at acoustic heart strings, while "Run Chicken Run" is a stomp-along hootin' howler perfect for rocking chair porches and jugs of moonshine.
What the album fails to achieve, however, is a steady pacing as it moves along. Yonder is oversaturated with ballads, and in many ways, that is detrimental to the individual emotional power of each one because of the fact they're all crammed together-- something in the message becomes lost in the overlapping homoegeneity. However, the standouts are good enough to carry weight on their own-- you just get the feeling that they could be even better if held against more varied musical backdrops.
In the end, The Felice Brothers do as well as can be asked of any folk band living in the shadow of Dylan and Co., and Yonder is the Clock, for what it lacks in momentum, maintains its worth with a couple of choice sad songs that hang in there with the best of them. - Chris Gayomali