Life In The Dark
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
After polishing up their studio methods with their last two albums, The Felice Brothers revert back to old tricks with their latest LP, Life In The Dark.
The Hudson Valley-based band’s new studio album finds them sticking to what they know, and perhaps do best: acoustic arrangements — heavy on fiddle, accordion and loose harmony backup vocals — that provide natural templates for Ian Felice’s twisted tales of the American underbelly.
Ian Felice has always been the group’s primary voice, but Life In The Dark is the band’s first proper record in which Ian handles all singing duties. The counterbalance typically provided by James Felice’s deep, rich baritone is surely missed, but Ian Felice seems newly focused on Life In The Dark, channeling his energy into a mix of modern murder ballads (“Diamond Belle”), oddball polemics poking fun at late capitalism (“Plunder”), and pained personal narratives of disappointment and despair (“Life In The Dark,” “Sell The House”).
The Felice Brothers’ music has always been grounded in a pastoral American romanticism, and this batch of songs plays out as an aural cross-country trip of sorts, criss-crossing from Jacksonville to Buffalo to Duluth to Dodge City, all the way to Death Valley. Along the way, Ian Felice takes stock of a country littered with prescription medicine, obscene wealth and commandeering corporate control. Yet he can’t help but watch the empire’s decline with amazed nostalgia: “America, you give me dreams to dream, popcorn memories, and love,” he sings on the Walt Whitman-inspired “Jack In the Asylum.” Elsewhere, he considers an ex’s quotidian whereabouts with utter disdain: “Eating sherbert/ In some sad suburbia/ And dating a disturbing profiteer.”
On Life In The Dark, the Felice Brothers continue their decade-plus quest of chronicling our crooked national pathologies with quirky humor, slacker indifference and guarded folkie optimism. Never before has the Felice Brothers taken in their country with so much wide-eyed wonder.