Simone Felice has long been one of Americana music’s hottest tickets, whether part of the Felice Brothers, one half of Duke and the King or in his recent venture branching out as a solo artist. The multi-talented native of upstate New York is set to seal the deal as an eminent performer with the release of STRANGERS, his second record of solo status but not short on guest influence. Repeat listens of this 10 track–37 minute offering reveal an intimate insight into the mind of Simone, all wrapped up in a sound quintessential of pure Americana.
It doesn’t take long to get into the stride of the record with a rousing sing along chorus decorating the fabulous, jovial and sweet opener ‘Molly-O’. This track sees Simone re-trace his carefree days as a panhandling travelling musician around the New York folk scene. While the upbeat sound tends to take more of a backseat as the album progresses, the strong choruses are a permanent feature to keep even the casual listener engaged throughout. There is no finer example of this than the second track ‘If You Go Down To LA’. This slow developing acoustic masterpiece has classic credentials written all over it and is the album’s stand out track. Its compelling mesmeric chorus with anthem-like qualities is something truly to savour.
By the time the third track ‘Running Through Your Head’ embeds its inner depth into your mind, you are guaranteed to be on a similar wavelength to Simone who has revolved this very personal project around his own close brush with death. Having recovered from open heart surgery in 2010, STRANGERS is a continuation of the recuperation process and the emotion runs deep in the vocal construction on ‘Our Lady Of The Gun’, another track with a strong hook to snare you in.
Simone was raised in the Catskill Mountains and, despite his roaming, still resides close to the town of his upbringing. ‘Bye Bye Palenville ‘ is something he doesn’t want to say now to his hometown whilst he is raising his own family close by, and the depth of feeling as he sings the words is undeniably emotional. ‘Gettysburg’ has a more upbeat groove with perhaps the closest feel to the spritely opener with several ‘sha la las’ added to the infectious chorus. A little banjo is detected in this song and joins the usual array of sounds that frequent a record of this type with perhaps a touch more piano and horns than you expect on a straightforward rock-influenced Americana record. The brass really kicks in on ‘The Best Money Can Buy’ which launches a more tranquil and, at times, darker feeling towards the latter stages of the record.
Amongst his musicianship, song writing and vocal talents, Simone can also add novelist and poet to his creative artistry and perhaps the one downside to the copy being reviewed is the absence of a lyric sheet to further dissect his wordsmith qualities. The final three tracks starting with ‘Heartland’ continue down the ballad path with the sombre mood evolving through ‘Bastille Day’ and ‘The Gallows’. Regardless of the album’s lighter or darker moments, the absorbing content will soak right through to the heart of a sophisticated music follower.
Simone Felice is an instinctive and clever artist who has delivered a top notch album with a little help from such luminaries as his well respected brothers and Wesley Schultz and Jeremiah Fraites of The Lumineers. STRANGERS is a deep introspective record with a palatable lacing of catchy melodies whilst remaining a fruitful source of masterly song writing. This record will go down well with old and new fans alike, with an opportunity to hear it live in the UK in April.