If the new Felice Brothers album, “Yonder Is the Clock,” sounds like it was written and recorded by a bunch of guys living together in a house in the woodsy Catskill Mountains, that’s because it was.
Picking up where Bob Dylan and The Band left off after The Basement Tapes, the young band of brothers and friends spent months picking and singing on their front porch, churning out slice after slice of heartfelt, soulful Americana.
In a way, they’ve taken the Big Pink era and made a career of it.
“Yonder Is the Clock” is filled with tender, organic instrumentation, sensitive lyrics and haggard, world-worn vocals surprising for guys in their early to mid-20s. The gospel of “Penn Station” is punctuated by random handclaps and enthusiastic off sides harmonizing. “Ambulance Man” is an apocalyptic, mournful funeral dirge. The soaring piano and guitar ballad “The Big Surprise” peaks in crashing drums and gentle horns.
Brothers James, Ian and Simon Felice, as well as “blood brothers” Christmas (yes, that’s his full name, like Madonna) and Greg Farley, all share vocals.
The band will perform Friday night at Valentine’s in Albany. Willie Mason opens.
James, Ian and Simon are the sons of a carpenter, the three eldest in a family of seven. They, along with Christmas and Farley, hosted Sunday barbecue hootenannies at their family home. As soon as they were all old enough, the band members moved to Brooklyn and began busking on street corners and subways. They lived on an old bus, panhandled and played as much music as possible.
It sounds like the stuff of rock ‘n’ roll myth, but James Felice claims it’s just the way they are.
“We’re regular people. We have the Internet,” he said “It ain’t like we’re a bunch of vagabonds.”
The Felice Brothers follow the same thread as other modern day Americana acts like Dr. Dog, Delta Spirit or our own homegrown Sgt. Dunbar and the Hobo Banned, paying homage to the blues, country and soul acts of days gone by.
“I grew up listening to a lot of classical music and a lot of Randy Newman,” said James Felice, 23. “And a lot of old-school, early American music like Skip James, Jimmy Rodgers and Mississippi John Hurt.”
But the bigger influence on the Felice Brother’s sound is the experience of playing and living with such close friends, said Felice.
“It’s not like we wanted to start an old-timey band,” said James Felice. “There’s just something that happens when you all sit around and play together. We’re constantly evolving and changing, finding new ways to play and express ourselves.”
The band has been prolific in the three years it’s been officially together. “Yonder Is the Clock” will be the third full-length release, and the band has also recorded dozens of bootlegs. James Felice says the group has also written hundreds of unreleased songs.
Last month, band members traveled to Austin, Texas, to perform at the annual South By Southwest music festival, where they received rave reviews.
The Felice Brothers’ 12-date April tour kicked off on Tuesday in Poughkeepsie and will take them through the Northeast, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Kentucky. While they’re touring, the the Felice Brothers will try to write as many songs as they can, which could be a challenge.
“It’s harder when you’re on the road,” said James Felice. “You’re very busy. And usually hung over.”