Folk music was never supposed to be processed and sanitized radio-ready jingles. This movement happened in 2008, ominously around the same time as the Great Recession, when I guess there was a sort of nostalgia for roots music from the masses. The Americana fad of the last decade is proving to be a trend that has lost the momentum and popularity it once had and we’re starting to see artists of the era, like Mumford and Sons and Edward Sharpe begin to branch out to other genres like electronic pop and jazz. Then there are The Felice Brothers. Catskill natives who built their resume by busking on NYC subway platforms and eventually touring with Bright Eyes in the late 2000’s. They never seemed to be doing this kind of music because it was trending, but because it was all their hearts would allow them to play. Their records sound like literature soaked in cheap whiskey and campfire smoke with the occasional electric storm. Their recent Christmas EP, Felice Navidad is no exception, and these lyrically driven folk songs can provide substantial nourishment this holiday.
As I walk into retail stores in New York city, it’s hard to tune out the Christmas music, which I keep reminding myself is corporate programming from advertisers trying to encourage us to associate positive emotions with purchasing behavior. I have found that a good combatant for this type of poison has been listening to the new Felice Brothers EP in my headphones when passing through stores. Real roots music is not created to sell you things, but to confront you with unbearable poetic truth. The Felice Brothers sing about poverty, depression, alcoholism, and real joy. They sing from the underbelly of the American experience, the part that’s not shown in magazines and TV commercials, the part that sees massive amounts of un-employment, substance abuse and heartbreak.
The song Dollar Store ends with the lines, “It’s Christmas day, whether you like it or not. You can’t turn this drunk away, you’re all this drunk has got.” People get let down on the holidays, people get wasted, people feel terrible about themselves and do stupid things. Without creating a victim narrative, this album speaks about the reality of the Christmas experience and the undying loneliness from those without families or loved ones.
The Felice Brothers have not lost their revolutionary spirit, and with this album they are putting their money where their mouth is, donating all the profits to their local food court. The songs conjure up ideas from the media, politics, religion and the economy, and although they may be bleak, the record itself is a sign of hope and resistance to the system. “Well it’s Christmas 2015, in this shit eating corporate dream.” Felice Brothers fans will not be disappointed with this EP.