To use a threadbare, but in this case useful, musical duality that has fueled decades of heated rock music discussions for (in SAT analogy form) – the Avett Brothers are to the Beatles what the Felice Brothers are to the Rolling Stones. (Sure lots of people like both bands but that’s boring.)
Like the Beatles and the Stones, the Avett and Felice Brothers define a needed duality of similarity. Both draw from shared sundry of musical influences – Old time Appalachian, barroom barrelhouse, delta blues, traditional country music, bluegrass, but, hoisting their musical rucksack, the pathways each band embarks oncould not be more distinct.
With their big label debut the Avett Brothers – Seth Avett and Scott Avett, who share vocals and play the guitar and banjo respectively, and Bob Crawford on stand-up bass – don’t take any extreme steps toward commercial success, quite the contrary given their situation. The band brings their sound and earnest, reflective and playful lyrics are taken to a more mature state and producer and label owner Rick Rubin does what he does best, focusing on subtleties and strengths. Piano and stings give even the nuanced piece an epic feel -The title cut, Head Full of Doubt, Road Full of Promise, and a slices of giddy pop – Kick Drum Heart, Tin Man, Slight Figure of Speech, It Goes On and On – not frothy pop but the layered buoyancy of early Beatles, Kinks and Beach Boys. With others before them – Waco, Neko Case – the move from the rustic territories to town comes with a price, and the price in this case is facial hair. That’s the surprising thing about I and Love and You. It’s not the seismic shift of Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot or Case’s Middle Cyclone or more representative of indie to big label REM’s Green. The songs are sharper, production crisper but if you loved the Avetts Autumnal odes before, you’ll love this album.
The Felice Brother’s newest release, Yonder Is The Clock , came out in April of this year and it also hold no surprises for long time fans. Released on indie label Team Love The Felice’s -Ian Felice guitar/vocal , James Felice – accordion, Simone Felice on drums, Christmas Clapton on bass, Greg Farley – fiddle and washboard – again channel the rollicking Big Pink-style Dylan/The Band front-porch jam with a dash of Tom Waits junkyard orchestra thrown in for good measure. Where the Avetts are dewy with wonder and innocence the Felice’s have an urbane, rough edge to their Catskill Mountain rearing (probably cultivated from busking in the streets of New York City.) Darkness abounds – There is nautical peril (the subtle album opener The Big Surprise and Waits-like ballad Sailor Song, dying homeless (in the rollicking stomp of Penn Station), reanimation from a frozen cocoon (the woozy waltz of Buried in Ice), Innocence lost – the deliriously beautiful All When We Were Young (sung with quivering elegance by drummer Simone Felice who recently left the band to start The Duke and The King with Robert “Chicken” Burke) and chickens (!) with the barn-burning bluesy bombast of Chicken Wire and the zydeco spiked Run Chicken Run.
To mix metaphors (or is it analogies?) the Avetts are the quaint town square with funky vintage stores, throwback ice cream parlors and inviting brew pubs. The Felice’s are the loading docks at the edge of town where to one dares go, but if you risk it you can score a traceless pistol and a jar of local skull rattle. But both the dark and the light make up the human condition.
I’m just a Stones man myself…
The Avett Brothers – I and Love and You [American]
The Felice Brothers -Yonder Is The Clock [Team Love]