The Felice Brothers: How did the Elder get to this before me?

What a sick song! As I shared last week, I did in fact give up alcohol for lent. I am listening to a lot of drinking songs as of late as a means to cope I think, although it is not really that bad. I actually don’t even drink as I did in my college years and its more of a social thing now, but I couldn’t remember the last time I went more than a few days without a single beer so I thought it was probably the best thing for me to give up for Lent.

The first night, I decided to grill a steak in the sub zero weather of our northland home and for the first time, I literally salivated when I saw a spare can of my favorite IPA in the vegetable crisper. It was then I realized that is essential I put down the liquor for a while so I can truly enjoy it and one week later, I listened to this band at the behest of my brother.

As much as I love beer, bourbon whiskey on the rocks is my favorite drink. I like the way it tastes, feels, looks and the effect most importantly and this is why I first got into this song. Of course, I have never put three shells in my .44 and shot my Eleanor, but I do love the country music theme of this tune and those sick rhymes. Pretty good for a bunch of city boys, the amazing Felice Brothers and their bluegrassy twang. But, I get ahead of myself.

I unintentionally love this song. I made a pledge to be done with sappy ass music but this is just a corker. I am stubborn as hell too but I’m working on it. The line about it’s better to feel pain than nothing at all is a long used line in many songs from the indie rock band Bishop Allen to some band that sounds like Korn on the radio now. It is certainly a true statement.

My brother and I have talked at length on the phone about how bands like The Lumineers and Mumford & Sons owe a lot to the bluegrassy bands that came on the scene a few years prior in the form of two bands with brothers in them. The Avett Brothers and the Felice Brothers. We also shouldn’t forget Old Crow Medicine Show which predates both of those brother bands and also, at least in the old days, really made an effort to be traditionally bluegrass. My sophomore year of college was permeated with OCMS’s first and self titled album, particularly “Wagon Wheel” which is huge now and this old time blues cover.

Maudlin songs make me happy while intoxicated, they always have. It‘s funny because often times these same songs will make me sad sober which sounds strange when I type it out. Ma Rainey wrote this song and she is one of the first professional blues singers, also teaching Bessie Smith the ways of the blues. You learn something new everyday!

I only vaguely got into their subsequent albums but I hear they are still doing well from my friends of that era who I still talk to regularly and who still follow the band. I always feel weird nostalgia for the alleged worry free existence that was my middle college years, mostly because I was so naive to think things would always be so easy. Knowledge is better in the long run and I am sure my path will cross with OCMS again.

As for the Avett Brothers, I actually watched a few songs of their set at Mountain Jam 2010 and then left to go cook chicken. I regret this and the lead guitar player in my band can personally attest that he tried to get me to stay as we had attended the festival right as I picked up the bass. Here’s their biggest hit so far.

Although some of their music is incredibly sappy, I love their harmonies. I am trying to learn how to actually sing after a lifetime of singing incorrectly along with the radio and kind of fancying myself a good singer. I was wrong. I don’t know how to breathe right yet for singing and it is way harder for me to earn than playing bass guitar. The harmonies in their song “Me and God” which I wrote about a few weeks back motivate me to quit everything else and just spend all my time learning to sing like that. I will not be able to realistically do this but it’s a good plan anyway. I will see them again and now I want to see the Felice Brothers.

The Felice Brothers are like a grittier and rockier sounding Avett Brothers who grew up in the urban chaos of Brooklyn,  New York City. Their father was a carpenter and the first gigs were at his afternoon weekend barbecues. They sort of have the Creedence thing in that they are from the city but play country sort of music, like CCR played bayou music and they were all from Southern California. At one time or another in my life, I would question their “realness” but this ethos means less to me as I get older. Who cares where someone is from, if their music is good, that is all that should matter.

Now we get to my original point. How did my brother listen to the Felice Brothers before I did? I have been listening to this type of music almost as long as  honky tonk music, like literally over ten years. Jerry Garcia‘s bluegrass band, Old and in the Way, was introduced to me by hippie neighbor number one while I was in high school. Furthermore  basically every band in the greater Burlington, Vermont area where I attended college is either funk, jammy, or bluegrass and mostly the latter. I have been immersed in this scene/music for a long time, yet the Elder J in his indie rock tower introduces me to this band. I’m stoked!

So, like most of these bands, they aren’t trying to be any one band, they are just trying to get out the music they hear in their heads. This is the only reason to play music. I mean, sure, it’d be great to make a bunch of money because you get lucky and play into a fad or maybe even someone smarter than you says “hey do a bluegrassy kind of band because that’s hot right now”. It’s all well and good to make money on what you love, but what if you can’t listen to what you made ? This is the only reason to play music.

I have a feeling these boys love what they do, that’s the big reason I see for all this accordion happening. It does sound good, but not since Weird Al have we seen such rampant use of the instrument in popular music and I am all for it. It really adds something along with the grittier vocals and I think it rubs of some of the polish off, in a good way, that a band like the Avett Brothers or even Mumford & Sons has created around them selves.

Compared to the bands I’ve discussed today, I think the Felice Brothers are quickly becoming my favorite. They have not gotten so big where Rick Rubin is producing their albums but big enough that they are confident to try different things. I think we should spend some time thinking about the next pseudo-indie wave of music. It seems like bluegrass has been covered, so what about bands that sound like Lynard Skynard b sides? Seriously! If you haven’t listened to the southern rock gods beyond their radio hits, you are missing out. Chew on this one for a while and think, if all of this bluegrass style bands sound good, how could would this sound?

This is my current favorite Skynard tune, beyond  “On the Hunt” of course. Seriously, check out some b sides of this band, you will be pleased! Oddly enough, by the end of writing this, my yearning for alcohol has all but abated. However, I will truly enjoy that next Wild Turkey on the rocks whenever it may come.

8 comments on “The Felice Brothers: How did the Elder get to this before me?

  1. theelderj says:

    To be fair, Another J told me about The Felice brothers and, after listening to them, I figured they were your bag not mine.

    The thing about these Brothers bands you mention is that, while I can identify and respect their musicals talent, I don’t really love their songs. Maybe it is the slight twang or something like that, but they just don’t move me.

    And I dont’t care if songs have solos or not!

    • theyoungerj says:

      Hahahaha. I wish they did brother. I keep listening to the Felice Brothers actually, I may like them the best even if they don’t have as cool vocal harmonies. I like the gritty sound and the accordion.

  2. Another J says:

    What’s funny is that I first learned about the Felice Brothers a few years ago from my cousin, who was living in Burlington at the time. So you had your chance to discover them before the Elder J.

    But I’m glad you like them. I think you put it well that they make the music that’s in their heads, without trying to be any one thing (or at least it seems that way). Most of their songs just sound like good friends/brothers playing music and having fun. I’d love to see them live.

    • theyoungerj says:

      We gotta make it happen, I bet they kill it live.. I have listened to “Whiskey in my whiskey” about thirty times this week and keep finding other songs that are great. Thanks Another J!

  3. […] think hate is a strong word so I don’t hate the band in hindsight. I like the bands that I feel spawned their whole “nu folk” movement which somehow also compels them to […]

  4. […] there is at least one song they can get into. This leads nicely to my final point. Like the Felice Brothers or Creedence Clearwater Revival doing genres of music that are not necessarily aligned with where […]

  5. […] guitar and me on bass to do a little jamming and see what was up. It was fun. I sang with her on a Felice Brothers song, “Wagon Wheel” by Old Crow Medicine Show and a variety of other country tunes. One […]

  6. […] love this band and this song. My lead guitar player has been working with me on singing lead on this tune and […]

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