By Al Kaufman
Felice possesses a sweet, haunting voice. He puts it to use right away on “Hey, Bobby Ray,” which begins in a Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon style before Felice’s “Cat Stevens on shrooms” vocals kick in. It sets the mood for the gospel tinged, Gothic Americana sound with which Felice fills the album.
Felice is a melancholic man who loves flawed people most of all. “Courtney Love” is a sympathetic ballad for the woman who lost the rights to her daughter and her dead husband’s name due to her bad behavior. Even Felice, who feels she is just misunderstood, does not wholly trust her. “When we sleep, I keep one eye open,” he croons. “The Ballad of Sharon Tate,” about the “vampire movie queen,” meanders off into an almost pitying expose on the Manson family, who were under Charlie Manson’s spell. Yet for such a provocative subject, he doesn’t say much. It’s a problem throughout the album.
In “New York Times” he discusses various headlines and sad stories he read in the paper, culminating with 9/11 and the death of Michael Jackson. He then pleads with his girlfriend to never be on the cover of The Times. Nice sentiment, but it just feels like there should be more there.
There’s also the hopeless romantic side to Felice. On “Stormy-Eyed Sarah” he remembers a girl from his teens who he thought was cool and slightly dangerous because she had a Ouija board. “Charade” tells the story of a boy who pumps gas in his dad’s filling station. His life is going nowhere and he just wants out. But when he’s with his girl, and runs his fingers through her hair, the world doesn’t suck as much.
The only deviation from the gospel and Gothic folk sound comes early on in the album, on “You and I Belong.” It’s a happy, sunny, almost poppy song that could fit on a kid’s album (and was, in fact, written for his newborn daughter). It is still rich and lush, but it is rich and lush with banjos and whistling as well. It’s too bad Felice didn’t throw more changes of pace into the album.
A survivor of a congential heart defect that almost killed him and forced him to undergo open heart surgery in 2010, Felice is justified in taking the leap out on his own. It makes sense that he reminisces about his younger days, but it still seems like he should have more to say, and, with help from people like Ted Dwane and Ben Lovett from Mumford and Sons, some more ways to say it.