Simone Felice – Simone Felice (Warner Music) CD REVIEW

October 9, 2014

I KNOW THAT these days the PR industry sometimes has to go to extraordinary lengths to get a new artist to register on the media – or public – “interest-o-meter”. Well, check out the following; the third paragraph of the press release accompanying this debut solo album by American Felice, formerly of the Felice Brothers and the Duke & the King:
‘When you sit in a room with Felice you can hear a subtle metallic ticking noise. If you hunt for the source of the sound you’ll find a scar bisecting the entire length of his chest, a visceral reminder of the open-heart surgery he was forced to undergo in the summer of 2010 after a childhood congenital defect brought him to the brink of death. Felice’s heart is his metronome, his divining rod, and the life source of his self-titled solo debut.’
Sometimes biographical information deepens your understanding of an artist’s work. Nick Drake is a fine example. The listener can sense the deep melancholy oozing from his music, voice and lyrics – a complete package of manic depression. So it increases one’s understanding to read about the singer-songwriter’s short and tragic life. Having listened to Simone Felice, on the other hand, it’s hard to see any justification, save for sheer exploitation, for the above PR hook. There’s nothing on the record specifically about heart surgery or about his consequent newfound love of life. In fact, you’re completely at a loss, and none the wiser, having put the sum total of the music together with the information that Felice was knockin’ on heaven’s door a couple of year’s back.
So let’s forget about what appears to be superfluous and exploitative information, and discuss the music.
The 10 tracks on Simone Felice are generally descriptive, and often narrative story-songs, although he doesn’t always finish or resolve those stories. He loves using names: Bobby Ray, Courtney Love, Sarah, Dawn Brady and Sharon Tate are featured in song titles, with more in the lyrics themselves. His lyrics are disarmingly simple, and I guess he’s aiming for the kind of simple profundity someone like Leonard Cohen churns out with every song. His turn of phrase and descriptions are sometimes evocative and imagistic, but you’re left wondering whether Felice left the genuine insight on the cutting-room floor.
Felice pulls stories out of the news, or history, and I’m sure he’s aiming to make a point in a song like ‘Dawn Brady’s Son’, about an American patriot’s son who goes on a killing spree, or ‘New York Times’, where the bizarre daily ritual of daily news is measured against real lives. But while his observations are vivid, I’m not sure he really gets his point across.
Witchdoctor readers will enjoy the sound, especially on the first half of the album, where Felice’s folk singing and strumming is often augmented by choral voices and other gospel-tinged instrumentation, all of it billowing out of the speakers in a beautiful semi-ambient flourish courtesy of the (here’s that press release, again) ‘deeply resonant places, settings that were as haunted in their rafters as Felice felt in his bones.’
Later on it sounds like Felice runs out of budget, and some of the songs are just his voice (like an Americanised Donovan) and guitar strum, but there remains a slightly religious feeling, together with a vaguely gothic-Americana that will appeal to some, and be a turn-off to others.
While Simone Felice is better than most singer-songwriter debuts, it’s hard to connect with the press release’s contention that he’s ‘an acclaimed wordsmith, published poet and novelist.’ He’s no Leonard Cohen. Or Donovan, for that matter. GARY STEEL
PS, If you want more personal tragedy to add fuel to the fire of myth and mystique, try this for size: At the age of 12, Felice had a brain aneurism and was clinically dead for some time, and had to re-learn how to read and write. You have to hear the music now, right?
Music = 3 stars
Sound = 3.5 stars

Steel has been penning his pungent prose for 40 years for publications too numerous to mention, most of them consigned to the annals of history. He is Witchdoctor's Editor-In-Chief/Music and Film Editor. He has strong opinions and remains unrepentant. Steel's full bio can be found here

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