Fuelled by such life-changing experiences as undergoing open heart surgery, largely delivered in a hushed whisper Simone Felice’s self-titled solo debut wasn’t exactly a bundle of sunshine, rather a brooding and mostly acoustic collection with an overcast view of life. What mood then might the follow up ‘Strangers‘ find him in? Well, despite having a closing track titled The Gallows, joined by guests that include the Felice Brothers, Leah Siegel, and Wesley Schultz and Jeremiah Fraites from The Lumineers, this is a decidedly different affair which, even if some of the songs come with a dark cloud, has a much fuller and richer sound, often featuring swathes of strings, with a frequent pop sensibility.
He rings the changes from the outset, Molly-O! a sprightly walking rhythm and chugging riff number with speak-sing verses and a crowd-friendly buoyant upbeat chorus before taking the pace down on If You Go To LA, one of those make sure she’s OK past love songs, which almost sounds like it could have been written by Albert Hammond (Sr) and comes dressed with sweeping strings and a li li li li chorus.
Having dipped into gospel for his last album, he returns to the well for the organ-backed ‘give me something to believe in’ Running Through My Head which, opening with a nod to Psalm 23, builds to full bloodied arms-swaying backing choir crescendo, that same slow swell structure informing both the hopeful Bastille Day and the more melancholic Bye Bye Palenville, a dusty, emotion drenched piano ballad about paternal abandonment that’s among the finest things he’s ever written.
Were there ever any doubt that Felice is a first class lyricist (he’s been likened to Cohen), then Our Lady Of The Gun, which weaves war and religion imagery around a slow hand clap and foot stomp rhythm, the beautifully tender slow waltzing Best That Money Can Buy with its violin and forlorn trumpet should settle the matter once and for all.
Elsewhere, the breathily Heartlands smoulders with the heat of contemporary grown up pop and a desperation to “know what it means to bleed for love” while, its feel and structure reminding me of American Pie, the choppy rhythmed Gettysburg with its brief banjo flashes is surely destined to accompany a self-examining reflective montage on something like One Tree Hill.
And so then to The Gallows wherein we find the narrator facing a public execution, yet rather than death, echoing earlier religious images, it is a sublime hymnal violin-laced song about freedom, strength, faith and love that embraces both condemned and hang man. Felice has come through the journey of doubt and despair on his debut to a place of calm acceptance and serenity. Listening to his passage may well have the same effect.
Review by: Mike Davies
Released by Team Love Records, March 24