3.5 out of 5 stars
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Multi-instrumentalist, novelist, poet, spoken word performer, near-death survivor, touring drummer with the Avett Brothers (among others) and founder of New York City’s Felice Brothers along with The Duke & the King, Simone Felice has crammed a lot of living in his 30 something years. Not surprisingly, he has amassed some stories along the way and on his sophomore solo disc, makes up some good ones too.
Felice’s smooth, whiskeyed voice, somewhat like that of Cat Stevens in his prime, is immediately both likeable and, more importantly, believable. His narrative on “Bye Bye Palenville” telescopes nearly a lifetime of ups and downs into a 4 minute melancholy piano based ballad that’s hypnotic in its unflinching honesty about the cycle of existence. Mournful strings, horns and drums kick in for the song’s last minute, infusing even more drama to the already riveting tale. Song titles such as “Bastille Day,” “Our Lady of the Gun,” and “The Gallows” indicate the downbeat, contemplative nature of Simone’s material. But sympathetic production that includes well placed angelic backing vocals, handclaps and dialed down orchestrations keep the music from getting bogged down in its own lyrical navel gazing.
Thankfully Simone includes upbeat moments such as “Gettysburg” with its plunking banjo and an upbeat singalong sha-la-la chorus that screams for audience participation. Mid-tempo rocker “Molly O” hits a Midwestern rocking groove with its dynamic chorus and spoken-sung verses imploring the singer’s titular female friend to give him another chance. “Running Through My Head” has a haunted R.E.M. feel, similar to “Everybody Hurts,” that kicks in as the tune grows more pulsating towards its conclusion.
Perhaps a few more buoyant and optimistic moments would have helped balance the short ten tune set. But Simone’s vocal, arranging and composing talents are so consistently strong that you’ll be swept away and lifted by the sheer quality of these lyrically dense yet musically fleet footed stories.