This debut is never less than pleasant, but only rarely is it truly memorable.
James Skinner 2012
Former member of New York State folk-rockers The Felice Brothers, chief member of The Duke & the King and published author to boot, Simone Felice has long been associated with a dusty, widescreen Americana that has gathered numerous plaudits for its honesty, literacy and spirit. Striking out under his own name with this record, the result is a sadly mixed bag of songs that often sags under the weight of its own production values.
When Felice hits the sweet spot, though, he does it with aplomb. Hey Bobby Ray opens the record, a striking portrait of physical abuse that swells with strings and an all-female choir from Felice’s hometown, while the piano-led New York Times finds him scanning the front-page news in order to deliver a bleak, bracing meditation on human affairs. Felice is at his best here, offering up impassioned slices of life and injustice shaded by the kind of details that mark him a songwriter with talent to spare.
Which makes it all the more maddening that You & I Belong and Stormy-Eyed Sarah feel hopelessly slight in comparison: both are rendered in smooth, syrupy production that steers them into the middle of the road, and Ballad of Sharon Tate descends into cloying melodrama. Sparse acoustic lament Courtney Love (which commiserates with the beleaguered star) fares little better – a sweet sentiment that feels more like a sketch than a song. Charade is a marked improvement, Felice relating a tale of a lost central character offered salvation via his one true love. "I’ll run my hand through your golden hair," he murmurs repeatedly in bringing the song to a close; one of the more affecting moments on an album that does see him in admittedly fine, quavering voice.
Recorded in various locales, from a London church to an abandoned high school building and a barn near his house in the woods, this self-titled album (which also features a turn from Mumford & Sons and production assistance from that band’s Ben Lovett) is never less than pleasant, but only rarely is it truly memorable. Felice is in possession of some fine gifts; fingers crossed he deploys them a little more convincingly next time.