New Music Friday: The Felice Brothers are former subway buskers gone big time

The Felice Brothers on stage, being bros. Via Facebook.
The Felice Brothers on stage, being bros. Via Facebook.

It’s good to have bros. Who doesn’t love a good old fashioned bro-down? (I would like to note that, for the purpose of this paragraph, the word “bro” is gender neutral. I would also like to note that, for the purpose of this paragraph, I’m using “bro” in a positive manner, like folks who love each other, not referring to the plagues of brocusts our dear editor Sam Corbin referred to in this brilliant Passover piece.) Hell, we are BROkelyn after all.

It’s all very apropos for this week’s New Music Friday featured band, for they are a group of bros. Their website describes them as “a band of two brothers and three lifelong friends,” and after 10 years together, that camaraderie comes through by way of the most cohesive, yet raw, jangly, roots-tinged folk rock you can imagine. I’m referring, of course, to The Felice Brothers. Their ninth album, Life In The Dark, drops today.

There’s a pretty good chance you’ve already heard of these guys. They’ve been around for the better part of the past decade. And even if you haven’t heard of them, they might sound familiar if you’ve ever stopped to listen to that guy with the banjo in the L train station. <

The boys formed, in the words of Consequence of Sound, as “a ragtag bunch of storytellers fresh from New York City’s subway platforms (which happens to be where they got their start over a decade ago).”

They’ve graduated a bit from the subway — they backed Conor Oberst at this month’s Northside Festival, and made our roundup of the best of the fest this year — but the folky, foot-stomping, banjo-tinged vibe remains the same. Their music conjures images of Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan dancing in your head like sugarplums at Christmas time. Plus, they recording their new album on a farm, according to The Guardian; you can hear clucking chickens on the songs.

The band was founded by the three Felice brothers, Ian, James and Simone; Simone has since left the band, but the others are going strong: Ian and James Felice are joined by Josh “Christmas Clapton” Rawson, Greg Farley and David Estabrook. Though they were originally from a small town in the Catskills near the historic musical hub of Woodstock, the Felice Brothers started out playing music together in the city sharing a little Brooklyn apartment.

The band released their first record in 2006, and now, for their 10th anniversary, they’re releasing their ninth studio album. If you’re good at using the calculator function on your iPhone like me, you realize that this is an average of 0.9 albums a year. And if you know anything about making albums, you realize that this is a lot.

My personal favorite album, as a lover of both puns and Christmas music, is their Christmas album, Felice Navidad. See what they did there? The album cover is also a picture of the band as little bitty babies. I also love little bitty babies.


See what they did there? Courtesy of Facebook.
See what they did there? Courtesy of Facebook.

The Felice Brothers are steeped in Americana, which is made evident in the banjo twangin’ songs some of us know them for. This record is no exception. “Plunder,” for instance, opens with a wailing guitar riff before going into a honky-tonk type song that one could easily line dance to in a country western bar whose floor is littered with peanut shells. And the poetry that pervades their music is still in tact: “Aerosol Ball” features a pretty rad tambourine/accordion combination, combined with quirky lyrics like “the rain in Maine is made of novocaine.”

Lead singer Ian Felice told Consequence of Sound:

“This is an album about living in Dreamsville, USA, playing music with your friends and just letting it come into being like a radio transmitting messages. Simply put, it’s about people playing music together in a room (at the same time) and trying to achieve a noisy precision of speech; looking at the world through the wrong end of a telescope and continuing our exploration into the perpetual apocalypse of daily life.”

Also, this post would be remiss without including my favorite Felice Brothers song, from their 2007 album Adventures of The Felice Brothers Vol. 1, because I’m selfish.

Peep the new record. It’s fantastic. And catch The Felice Brothers live: click here for a handy list of tour dates.

Lilly Vanek is the music editor for Brokelyn. For more about local music and musings on Christmas puns, follow Lilly on Twitter. And to pitch her for New Music Friday, email Lilly at lilly [at] brokelyn [dot] com.

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