Show Preview: The Felice Brothers/ Aaron Lee Tasjan/ Shelby Earl
October 15, 2016 @ The Tractor Tavern
By Bart Cameron
These days, I’ve been singing along to the refrain “America. America, you give me nightmares.” It’s my latest mantra for getting through the day, provided by Ian Felice, from a track off the new album by The Felice Brothers, Life in the Dark.
Ian Felice has a way with a hook; his voice is like a drawn out cat-gut fiddle string. This is a man who fully understands nightmares and America. He isn’t seeking attention, he just, you know, can’t fucking sleep because of everything that’s going on.
“Jack in the Asylum” is a complete and haunting folk song, as perfect for the moment as any single of the past decade. The track serves as a kissing cousin of another Felice Brothers song, “Katie Dear,” which also sports the somehow more timeless refrain, “Louisiana ain’t that bad, when all you’ve had is Louisiana.”
The closest I can get to explaining the effect of each Felice Brothers record—there are many from various sources, and since I saw their bewildering set playing as Conor Oberst and M Ward’s band in September 2015 at the Moore, I’ve purchased most—is to equate it to collecting the first decade of George Jones records. Yes, George Jones is a singular talent, but the way he and his studio bands expressed themselves between 1954 to 1964 — the bone on bone with nothing but liquor to ease the scraping, the barracks poetry, the haunting love songs made so distinctly American, the highway miles on the voice — that’s exactly what The Felice Brothers have, and what so few of their peers will ever discover. An integrity. A craft. And once you buy into the hook, it is impossible to abandon your loyalty.
Their music speaks better than I can write about it. Just acknowledge that if you were teaching a class on short fiction, this song from their 2008 eponymous record would be a better lesson plan than anything printed in The New Yorker.
As the news might tell you, depending on which sounding box you’re locked into, we are living in the most degenerate of days. The upside is that a truly outstanding group like The Felice Brothers can turn the realities of our shit into gold.
Another upside? There are so few discerning fans and critics that a genuine music fan can score a damn ticket to see this band at the height of their powers, with none other than Aaron Lee Tasjan and Seattle’s pride and joy Shelby Earl, at Tractor Tavern for a mere $16 on Oct. 15, 2016.