Simone Felice: Simone Felice

Simone Felice's debut solo album is a simple, yet beautiful, invocation of the fragility and beauty of human life.

Simone Felice

Simone Felice

Label: Team Love
US Release Date: 2012-04-10
UK Release Date: 2012-04-02

I’m sitting on a train travelling from my hometown of Birmingham, heading to London, where I’m to catch a flight to Caracas, Venezuela. I’m incredibly excited by my impending journey although feeling a bit emotional about leaving my family behind at home for a little while. The rain is hammering down against the windows of the train, the weak April British sunshine bleeding into the black of the night the further south I get. All this is adding to my sense of trepidation and discovery that journeys into the unknown evoke. Simone Felice’s self titled debut album is accompanying me as I travel: the sparse simple arrangements, with Felice’s delicate almost reverential vocals, at one with the gentle rhythms of the train’s motion. I couldn’t have chosen a better or more apt soundtrack to listen to as it is clear that Felice has also been on his own journey and, with the release of this album, has reached, if not his final destination, then certainly an important resting place.

The former drummer, writer and vocalist of folk/Americana band the Felice Brothers, has produced a strikingly beautiful album that will appeal to followers of the current, slightly twee English folk revival – Mumford & Sons guest on the album – and the more dusty, gritty and panoramic style of Americana. The back-story of Felice, which in some respects is the story of the album, cannot be overlooked or underestimated. Born with a congenital heart defect and then suffering a brain aneurysm when he was 12, Simone was pronounced clinically dead for several minutes and was not expected to survive, or, as doctors informed his parents, if he did, then his motor faculties might be seriously affected. This traumatic experience, and the subsequent recovery, pushed the young Felice into what has turned out to be a life of creative endeavour.

These endeavours would see the young Felice front a punk band at the age of fifteen, playing at the legendary CBGBs in the process, writing and performing his poetry, and penning two short stories, Goodbye Amelia in 2004 and Hail Mary Full of Holes in 2005, and eventually forming the magnificent Felice Brothers with siblings Ian and James. More health issues, this time the small matter of open-heart surgery he underwent in the summer of 2010, resulted in Simone being asked to write his memoirs for the Guardian newspaper, completing his first novel Black Jesus, fronting the Duke & the King, leaving the Felice Brothers and now releasing this album. Part of you suspects such a burst of activity is borne from looking death in the eye and coming out, if not exactly smiling then thankful, eager to make the most of our relatively short time on this earth.

It is hard to know if Felice’s songwriting on this album reflects these near death experiences or is autobiographical, it seems to be a lazy assumption to think so, but there is undoubtedly a personal component to his music, evidenced in titles such as “Hey Bobby Ray”, “Courtney Love”, “Stormy-Eyed Sarah” and “Dawn Brady’s Son” to pick just four, which deal with people and their everyday lives. Opener “Hey Bobby Ray” tells the tale of physical abuse and is sung with a breathy, almost hushed tone, “Hey Bobby Ray / You got it coming boy / You’ll get your day,” before soaring into a majestic folk gospel song with the introduction of girls’ choir the Catskill High School Treblaires. “New York Times” is assembled by Felice scanning issues of the venerated newspaper to tell the stories of Eddie Blackbird who “Out in South Dakota / Stole a gold Range Rover / And he drove it over / The empty plains.” It’s such a simple idea, but Felice does it with grace and style drawing you into the protagonist’s worlds, and eager to find out his destiny. “Courtney Love” on the other hand, seems to be a genuine plea for the errant Hole singer to just get in touch with Felice in order to “Take a chance / And come away with me.” The vocals are pushed right to the front of the song, as Felice appears to be talking directly at Love. He understands, Felice seems to be saying, that we all have our personal journeys and it’s not always easy to choose the straight path.

Felice has been likened in the press to Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and Gordon Lightfoot but it is on the middle tracks of the album (“Stormy-Eyed Sarah”, “Charade”, and “Dawn Brady’s Son”) that the penny finally drops. In his songwriting and delivery, Felice is a modern incantation of Cat Stevens (now recording as Mohammed Yusef). At his height, Stevens had the ability to make his music appear deeply personal to both himself and for the listener. With his similar tone, phrasing and acoustic arrangements, Felice also draws the listener in to his tales of friends, acquaintances and everyday life, letting his songwriting and vocals take us on multiple journeys, his, ours and the song subject’s very own. It is fitting, then, that the final song on the album, “Splendor in the Grass”, deals with the birth of his daughter just three weeks after Felice’s major heart surgery. Now embarking on his next journey as a parent, Felice ends the album with the audible ticking of his new mechanical heart valve, which captures perfectly the fragility and beauty of life with each passing tick.




Reading Pandemics

Pandemic, Hope, Defiance, and Protest in 'Romeo and Juliet'

Shakespeare's well known romantic tale Romeo and Juliet, written during a pandemic, has a surprisingly hopeful message about defiance and protest.


A Family Visit Turns to Guerrilla Warfare in 'The Truth'

Catherine Deneuve plays an imperious but fading actress who can't stop being cruel to the people around her in Hirokazu Koreeda's secrets- and betrayal-packed melodrama, The Truth.


The Top 20 Punk Protest Songs for July 4th

As punk music history verifies, American citizenry are not all shiny, happy people. These 20 songs reflect the other side of patriotism -- free speech brandished by the brave and uncouth.


90 Years on 'Olivia' Remains a Classic of Lesbian Literature

It's good that we have our happy LGBTQ stories today, but it's also important to appreciate and understand the daunting depths of feeling that a love repressed can produce. In Dorothy Strachey's case, it produced the masterful Olivia.


Indie Rocker Alpha Cat Presents 'Live at Vox Pop' (album stream)

A raw live set from Brooklyn in the summer of 2005 found Alpha Cat returning to the stage after personal tumult. Sales benefit organizations seeking to end discrimination toward those seeking help with mental health issues.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

'Avengers: Endgame' Faces the Other Side of Loss

Whereas the heroes in Avengers: Endgame stew for five years, our pandemic grief has barely taken us to the after-credit sequence. Someone page Captain Marvel, please.


Between the Grooves of Nirvana's 'Nevermind'

Our writers undertake a track-by-track analysis of the most celebrated album of the 1990s: Nirvana's Nevermind. From the surprise hit that brought grunge to the masses, to the hidden cacophonous noise-fest that may not even be on your copy of the record, it's all here.


Deeper Graves Arrives via 'Open Roads' (album stream)

Chrome Waves, ex-Nachtmystium man Jeff Wilson offers up solo debut, Open Roads, featuring dark and remarkable sounds in tune with Sisters of Mercy and Bauhaus.

Featured: Top of Home Page

The 50 Best Albums of 2020 So Far

Even in the coronavirus-shortened record release schedule of 2020, the year has offered a mountainous feast of sublime music. The 50 best albums of 2020 so far are an eclectic and increasingly "woke" bunch.


First Tragedy, Then Farce, Then What?

Riffing off Marx's riff on Hegel on history, art historian and critic Hal Foster contemplates political culture and cultural politics in the age of Donald Trump in What Comes After Farce?


HAIM Create Their Best Album with 'Women in Music Pt. III'

On Women in Music Pt. III, HAIM are done pretending and ready to be themselves. By learning to embrace the power in their weakest points, the group have created their best work to date.


Amnesia Scanner's 'Tearless' Aesthetically Maps the Failing Anthropocene

Amnesia Scanner's Tearless aesthetically maps the failing Anthropocene through its globally connected features and experimental mesh of deconstructed club, reggaeton, and metalcore.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.