Album review: "Simone Felice"
By Mark Jenkins
Friday, May 25, 2012
Singer-songwriter Simone Felice has good reason to be pondering mortality. In his 35 years, the upstate New Yorker has survived a brain aneurysm and open-heart surgery. Perhaps that’s why Felice (whose first name is pronounced “Simon”) has loaded up his new self-titled album with songs about death.
Felice is a published fiction author who used to perform with two of his siblings in the Felice Brothers, a group that draws on the often-grim tradition of Appalachian balladry. As a solo act, he turns his literary language, spare melodies and quavering vocals to such tunes as “Hey Bobby Ray” (about sexual assault and murder) and “Dawn Brady’s Son” (rhymes with “he got a gun”). Felice takes this fixation a song too far with “Ballad of Sharon Tate,” a distasteful account of the Manson family’s most infamous crime.
Most of the arrangements begin starkly, with just voice and guitar or piano, although strings and a girls choir sometimes enter later. Members of Mumford & Sons add banjo and whistling to the upbeat “You & I Belong,” a welcome stylistic shift. More typical, however, is the brooding “New York Times,” in which Felice finds the newspaper full of war, loss and, yes, homicide.