SIMONE FELICE-STRANGERS.

SIMONE FELICE-STRANGERS.

Although Strangers is only Simone Felice’s sophomore album, his career began back in 2006, when Simone was a member of The Felice Brothers. They began busking in the New York subway. By 2009, The Felice Brothers were signed to a major label. Then tragedy struck for Simone, which resulted in him leaving The Felice Brothers.

Simone’s and his long-time partner were expecting their first child. Late in her pregnancy, she miscarried. The couple were devastated. Their lives were turned upside down. After this, Simone retreated to to a cabin in the Catskill’s with his old friend Bird. Together, they began writing and recording what became The Duke & The King’s debut album.  Nothing Gold Can Stay was released to critical acclaim. Its stark honesty was praised by critics. A year later, Long Live The Duke and The King was released to similar critical acclaim. Two years later, Simone embarked upon his solo career.

His solo career began in April 2012, with the release of Simone Felice. Just like the albums he released with The Felice Brothers and The Duke & The King, Simone Felice was well received. Critics hailed the album as one of the finest debuts of 2012. Then in October 2012, Simone returned with the New York E.P. It wasn’t until March 24th 2014, that Simone returned with Strangers, his sophomore album on Dualtone. This was the latest chapter in the Simone Felice story.

The Simone Felice story began on 4 October 1976 in Palenville, New York, a small working-class town in the Catskill Mountains. Growing up, Simone was just an ordinary boy. Then tragedy struck for the first time in his life.

Aged twelve Simone suffered a brain aneurysm. He was pronounced clinically dead for several minutes. Amazingly, he recovered after emergency brain surgery. Simone spent the next two months in intensive care. During that time, he had to relearn basic motor skills. This included reading and writing. Having cheated death, Simone’s childhood could begin again.

Three years later, aged fifteen, Simone formed his first punk band. This was around 1991. They practised in his grandfather’s barn. Little did anyone know back then, that music would become Simone’s career.

People had an inkling this would be the case when Simone quit school aged eighteen. Panhandling and playing in clubs and sometimes, dive bars allowed Simone to make a living. One of his proudest moments was playing CBGB in New York. He must have imagined those who’d played there before him. This included The Ramones, Television and Talking Heads. Now Simone Felice’s career was just beginning. There was more to Simone than a singer and songwriter. Much more

By 2001, Simone and his brother Ian started writing and playing together. To write music they headed into the woods. They were joined by Doc Brown and began work on what became their first two releases,  The Big Empty and Mexico. For the next five years, what became The Felice Brothers were honing their sound. During this period, Simone’s career looked like heading in a different direction

Around the time he was making his way in the music world, Simone started writing poetry and vignettes. By the time he was twenty-two, his first collection , The Picture Show, had been published. This resulted in Simone doing readings at the fashionable East Side Nuyorican Poets Café. Soon, Simone was receiving invites to read at everywhere from Harvard and Berlin, to London and San Francisco. Around this time, many people felt a literary career looked likely for Simone.

This looked the case when Simone had his first works of fiction published. Goodbye Amelia was published in 2004. A year later, Hail Mary Full of Holes was published. Despite having three books to his name, Simone turned his back on literature in 2006, and concentrated on The Felice Brothers.

The The Felice Brothers first album was Iantown. Released in 2006, it mostly features Ian, accompanied by his trusty acoustic guitar. That changed later in 2006.

What might be described as the first album from the expanded Felice Brothers was released later in 2006. This was Through These Reins and Gone. Looking back, this marked the rise and rise of The Felice Brothers.

Having started out busking in New York’s subways, The Felice Brothers profile started to rise. They found themselves playing in New York’s trendy Greenwich Village and Union Square. This was handy, given Ian and Simone lived in nearby Brooklyn. During this period, The Felice Brothers were busy, writing, recording and releasing their own albums

2007 saw The Felice Brothers release two albums. This includes the Bob Dylan and Band influenced Tonight At The Arizona was released. The other album was Adventures of The Felice Brothers Vol. 1. It was only sold at live shows and has since, become something of a collectable. Especially, when The Felice Brothers signed to Team Love Records in January 2008.

Having signed to Team Love Records, their new label sent The Felice Brothers out on tour. They played coast to coast. This was all part of the label lifting their latest signing’s profile and promoting their major label debut. The Felice Brothers toured from February right through to April. In the midst of the tour The Felice Brothers released their major label debut, The Felice Brothers in March 2008. Then they hit the summer festival circuit. This included playing at the Newport Folk Festival. For The Felice Brothers life was looking good for them. Sadly, fate intervened

With The Felice Brothers signed to a major label and their reputation growing with every release, they looked like becoming one of the biggest bands of the decade. Especially when their sixth album Yonder Is the Clock peaked at number twenty in the US Billboard 200. All their hard work and sacrifices seemed to have been worthwhile. Then tragedy struck and Simone would’ve swapped everything for things to have turned out differently

Simone and his long-time long-time partner were expecting their first child. Late in her pregnancy, tragedy struck and she miscarried. The couple were devastated. Their lives were turned upside down. For Simone, the success and critical acclaim must have been meaningless. This was more important than music. In the aftermath of this tragedy, Simone sought solace and answers in his music

Having left The Felice Brothers, Simone retreated to to a cabin in the Catskill’s with his old friend Bird. Together, they began writing and recording what became The Duke & The King’s debut album, Nothing Gold Can Stay. It was released to critical acclaim in July 2009. Its stark honesty was praised by critics. A year later, tragedy struck again for Simone

For a while, Simone had been suffering fainting spells. After investigating the cause, Simone underwent emergency open-heart surgery. Doctors discovered that Simone a childhood congenital heart disorder. Somehow, Simone recovered in two weeks and joined his brother onstage at Pete Seeger’s annual Clearwater Festival. After cheating death again, there was some good news for Simone and his partner.

Their daughter Pearl was born a month after Simone’s operation. After this, Simone got his career back on-track. In September 2011, Long Live The Duke and The King was released to similar critical acclaim. Two years later, Simone embarked upon his solo career

His solo career began in April 2012, with the release of Simone Felice. Just like the albums he released with The Felice Brothers and The Duke & The King, Simone Felice was well received. Critics hailed the album as one of the finest debuts of 2012. Then in October 2012, Simone returned with the New York E.P. It wasn’t until March 24th 2014, that Simone returned with Strangers, his sophomore album.

Strangers features ten tracks penned by Simone. These ten tracks were recorded in the Catskills with the help of some guest artists. Among them are The Felice Brothers, Leah Siegel, and Wesley Schultz and Jeremiah Fraites of The Lumineers. Producing Strangers, which I’ll tell you about, were David Barron and Simone.

Molly-O opens Strangers. For anyone yet to discover Simone Felice, the first thing you’ll realise is that he sounds similar to Bob Dylan. That’s the case from the opening bars, when the rhythm section drive the arrangement along. Harmonies sweep in, adding to the this joyous, upbeat and hook-laden love song. Later, a piano and horn are added at just the right time. However, it’s the harmonies that play a huge part in the song’s success. Along with Simone’s vocal, they play a part in this anthemic track.

If You Go To LA is very different from the opening track. It has a much more understated sound. Just like the opening track, the lyrics have a strong narrative and are a relationship song. Simone’s vocal is rueful and full of concern for the lover he lost. He’s accompanied by just acoustic guitars and the rhythm section. Later, strings sweep in and add to the wistful sound as country, folk and pop combine to create a beautiful song where hurt and heartbreak are omnipresent.

Running Through My Head is another slow song. Dramatic and with a country influence, just a piano and drums accompany Simone. His vocal is needy. He sounds like “one of the lost” from Molly O. Almost pleadingly, he sings: “give me something to believe in,” as he delivers this paean to the siren whose captured his heart. By then, the arrangement unfolds and builds. At just the right moment, strings dance, harmonies sweep in and a Hammond organ adds an atmospheric backdrop. The finishing touch is the ethereal beauty of the female vocal that accompanies Simone. It then takes centre-stage as the track reaches an emotive crescendo.

Just like the previous tracks on Strangers, the lyrics to Our Lady of the Gun have a strong narrative. That’s no surprise, given Simone’s literary background. Producers David Barron and Simone build the arrangement from just the lone acoustic guitar that accompanies the vocal. As Simone’s vocal oozes emotion, the drama builds. Handclaps, rhythm section and harmonies provide a hypnotic backdrop while Simone lays bare his soul. Pain, sadness and regret fills his voice. Ethereal harmonies float in, as if trying to sooth his pain.

Without doubt, the piano lead Bye Bye Palenville is one of the most moving songs on Strangers. With just the piano accompanying Simone’s vocal, you concentrate on what are the best lyrics on Strangers. This includes: “I could never understand, how a living breathing man, could run away, and leave his kids in the cold.” The lyrics have a cinematic quality. Dramatic pictures unfold before your eyes. A cast of characters come to life. Absent fathers, jailbirds, lonely children and newly born babies. Later, harmonies and a wistful horn accompany Simone’s scatted vocal as emotion fills his voice as this musical Magnus Opus draws to a close.

Gettysburg sees Simone return to the upbeat fusion of pop, country and folk of Molly-O. The Bob Dylan similarity is apparent again. There’s also a profusion of slick poppy hooks on this tale of newly found love. From the get-go, the track has a singalong, anthemic sound. This will go down a storm at festivals. Just the rhythm section, handclaps, acoustic guitar, banjo and harmonies join Simon on this genre-melting anthem.

The Best Money Can Buy sees a return to the understated, country tinged sound. Just an acoustic guitar accompanies Simone as he serenades the one he loves. Strings quiver and vibes drift in and out. His voice is needy and hopeful on this seductive paean. As he sings: “can we settle down and make a child” promises to “stick around” and give it “The Best Money Can Buy.” Heartfelt and hopeful it’s a beautiful paean from the pen of Simone Felice.

Stabs of keyboards provide the backdrop for Simone’s tender vocal on Heartland. Gradually, the arrangement unfolds and takes on a rocky sound. The rhythm section and weeping guitars enter as a lonely and lovelorn Simone sings: “I want to know what it’s like to be in love.” He wants to see what’s behind the facade of the woman who pretends backing soda is cocaine. He’s intrigued and spellbound, as he sings: “I wanna to know what it means to bleed for love.”

Bastille Day has a wistful sound. That’s down to the subdued, piano lead arrangement. Simone’s vocal is melancholy. Rueful and full of regret at the love he’s lost he pleads “can’t we try again?” Soul-baring describes his vocal. Ethereal harmonies and Hammond organ accompany Simone as his voice grows in power. Emotion and hope fill his needy vocal pleads: “won’t you let me in.”

Angelic harmonies float in as The Gallows, which closes Strangers unfolds. The harmonies set the scene for Simone vocal. Despairing and without hope, he finds himself: “standing on the gallows.” With just acoustic guitar, mournful strings and harmonies they accompany a heartbroken Simone as he sings “I’m on my way.”

Although Strangers, Simone Felice’s sophomore album only features ten songs lasting thirty-eight minutes, it’s musical perfection. It’s a reminder of what an album used to be like. Back in the seventies, before the compact disc, artists were restricted by how much music could fit on an album. Usually, this was about ten songs. This resulted in an element of quality control. Not any more. Now, albums are sprawling affairs with up to twenty tracks. Not Strangers, Simone Felice’s sophomore album.

He’s old school. For Strangers, Simone wrote ten tracks, which he recorded with some of his musical friends in the Catskills. Strangers is a genre-melting album. There’s everything from country, folk, perfect pop and classic rock influences Strangers. The ten tracks are like short stories, where Simone introduces you to a series of characters. He tells you their stories. Sometimes, they’re full of sadness, regret and heartbreak. Other times they’re joyous and hopeful. Often, the songs are beautiful and tug on your heartstrings. Other times, they’re full of slick poppy hooks. This includes Molly-O and Gettysburg, which will be festival favourites this summer. These songs, just like the rest of Strangers, shows how far Simone Felice has come.

Incredibly, Strangers, which was released on Dualtone on 24th March 2014, is only Simone’s sophomore album. Granted he’s released albums as part of The Felice Brothers and as The Duke & The King. A solo career is a totally different. It’s just Simone and his songs. He’s carried it of. Proof of this is Strangers, Simone’s sophomore album. I’d go as far as say that Simone Felice’s latest album Strangers, is The Best That Money Can Buy. Standout Tracks: Molly-O, Bye Bye Palenville, Gettysburg and Heartland.

SIMONE FELICE-STRANGERS.

Simone

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