Ultimately the album succeeds by reminding us that the best folk music has always been...
Tim Nelson 2007-12-21
There’s a real end-of-the-party quality to Tonight At The Arizona, but not in a bad way. Even if the songs are shot through with Dylanesque vocalizing (and, to a lesser extent, the musical colours and harmonies of The Band), this album remains more closely related to Townes Van Zandt’s output, or perhaps Neil Young’s hippy requiem, Tonight’s The Night. With a drunken, druggy storytelling style, it can’t quite decide if it’s a wedding or a wake.
All of this begs the question as to what exactly is new about this record, and perhaps nothing is, beyond the sound of the Felice Brothers attacking the songs with all the gusto of a drunk breaking the seal on a bottle of bourbon. However, the lyrical details certainly suggest the blues are alive and well in the 21st century, particularly in songs like “Roll on Arte”, “The Ballad of Lou the Welterweight”, “Lady Day” and “Rockefeller Druglaw Blues”.
It’s like Bruce Springsteen’s The Ghost Of Tom Joad, if that record was actually listenable, but unlike The Boss, these Catskill boys have actually lived on the streets; the three brothers, Ian, Simone and James, also recently recruited their friend Christmas, a ‘runaway dice thrower’. Perhaps it’s not too fanciful to believe that fact is reflected in the grit of Ian Felice‘s voice, stripping away sentiment like Rip Van Winkle having his first shave for twenty years.
Ultimately the album succeeds by reminding us that the best folk music has always been as playful as it is profound. On the best track, “T for Texas”, one of the Brothers whoops like a latter-day Sleepy John Estes, while the closing “Take this Hammer” (rather cheekily, given the album’s title, the only live cut), is not only a tribute to Pa Felice’s occupation as a carpenter, but also a drunken anthem that cleverly whets the listener’s appetite for their live show. Long may they continue to roll.