You have to take press releases with a grain of salt. While some are effervescent hyperbole, others spin wild yarns about the origins of the band (are The Hives still staunchly defending their Svengali bullshit?) and then there are the ones that fall in-between. But whether or not you believe that The Felice Brothers adopted a wayward dice player and tossed him on bass, or that the newest album was recorded in a studio built from remnants of a chicken coop doesn’t matter. What does matter is that Yonder is the Clock is a big step towards bringing recognition to one of the more genuinely interesting bands to come down the pike in a while.
The album both begins and ends with somber, quiet songs shouldered by the off-kilter vocals of Ike Felice. I’ll be blunt – there’s a good chance that you will absolutely hate his vocals, a nasal hybrid of Bob Dylan, Tom Waits (“Sailor Song” would fool a Waits fan) and Townes van Zandt. But like those artists, there’s so much emotion, heart and feeling happening within those vocals that you would do yourself a disservice not to make the effort. I mean really – does anyone complain about Dylan’s voice anymore, or do they simply celebrate his music and accept it? I’m not trying to put Felice on that pedestal, he’s nowhere close to earning that kind of comparison, but don’t judge a book by its (aural) cover.
There is one line in the press release that does capture the album’s impact – “the record is teaming with tales of love, death, betrayal, baseball, train stations, phantoms, pandemics, jail cells, rolling rivers and frozen winter nights.” Part hoedown, part revival meeting, The Felice Brothersare a cacophony of stringed instruments, organs and pianos, accordions and fiddles, like a rough-and-tumble version of The Band. Sometimes the instruments sound like they are slightly out of tune, and I can’t guarantee that everyone hits the beat exactlyon the mark every time, but songs like “Chicken Wire”, “Penn Station” and “Run Chicken Run” could kick-start any room full of people into a throbbing mass of jello.
But they can also toss out something as pretty as “Katie Dear”, a song that could be slipped into the tracklist of any album by Ronnie Lane’s Slim Chancewithout raising suspicion. My favorite track might be “Cooperstown”, a song so visual that a screenplay could be written around it. “Rise and Shine”, the closing track, is anything but a wake-up call, rather it sounds like Shane MacGowan singing a prayer at last call . But as the gentle coda to the rest of the album, it’s a gentle roll to a stop. I’ll be playing this all year long.