Over the course of their eight-year career, dishevelled New York State oiks The Felice Brothers have forged themselves an impressive reputation among devotees of the modern American folk scene. There are few bands capable of bettering their rousing combination of bucked-toothed roots-rock and effortless, old-fashioned songwriting. However, their recordings could quite easily be mistaken for compilations of forgotten Greenwich Village folk gems, thrown together to celebrate half a century of Highway 61 Revisited (it hardly helps that singer Ian Felice really sounds like Bob Dylan). Therefore, it is hardly surprising that since the release of 2011’s Celebration, Florida, the band has been attempting to update their sound a little and begin to craft themselves a sound more distinctively recognisable as their own. Favorite Waitress continues this parameter-pushing trend.
The album opens extremely strongly, with the beautiful “Bird On Broken Wing”. Superficially, this seems an odd opener - mid-paced, melancholic, consisting of fairly simple acoustic-rock atmospherics that are initially a little over-familiar. Yet as soon as the vocals enter, the song establishes itself as five of the most irresistible, perfectly crafted minutes this band has yet produced. It’s followed by “Lion”, a pleasant, jaunty number that bounces energetically along upon squelching accordions and enthusiastic percussion. “Alien” and “Meadow of a Dream” maintain this high standard, both excellent, moody developments of the standard Felice formula.
As great as the album’s opening four songs might be, they hardly break new ground for the Felices. “Saturday Night Alone” seeks to provide that change of direction, and it does so in arresting, synth-soaked fashion. But although its impassioned vocals and inventive rhythms are engaging enough, it undeniably lacks the punch of its predecessors.
Sadly, it is all downhill from here. “Constituents” is a jarring, half-baked mish-mash of funereal organs and crashing, obtrusive drums; “Cherry Liquorice” is an unexpected – and unwelcome – attempt at pop-punk, with lyrics so sickly-sweet they almost get stuck between your teeth - and the excerpt from “Baa Baa Black Sheep” in “Hawthorne” is just silly. Unfortunately, there’s very little after those initial four songs that manages to reach the high standard they set, due in part to some ill-considered flirtations with disparate stylistic elements.
It is a real shame, as this is quite clearly a band capable of producing some genuinely fantastic music. In many – probably most – groups, a lust for experimentation is an admirable trait. On this evidence, the Felice Brothers are band who operate best when they stick to what they know.