LIVE: The Felice Brothers @ Cohoes Music Hall, 4/13/17

Review by Steven Stock

Plenty of groups would love to be mentioned in the same breath with The Band, but someday the Felice Brothers may weary of the comparison. Hell, they’re so good they just might eclipse it! It’s one that comes naturally enough, given that the acclaimed combo is based in the Catskills, trade off lead vocals as if they’re passing a joint, and boast a rootsy Americana-inflected sound, with James Felice switching from accordions to keyboard a la Garth Hudson and enigmatic guitarist Ian Felice unleashing terse, stinging lead lines reminiscent of Robbie Robertson’s.

Like Robertson, Ian never overstays his welcome, his blazing solos are always economical, serving the band’s songs rather than overshadowing them. And what songs they are! Over the course of 12 years, the Felice Brothers have amassed an impressive and varied catalog, and their 75-minute set at the Cohoes Music Hall could only sample some of the highlights.

Some of their songs offer a kaleidoscopic jumble of impressionist imagery, while others possess the understated diamond-cutting precision of a Raymond Carver short story. “Sell the House,” for instance:

Put the tv on the lawn
With the bicycles and boots
Take your wedding dress to pawn
Take my pistol and my suit
Sell the house
Sell the car
Take the kids to Jacksonville
Give them a kiss
For the father they’ll miss
Tell them that I love them still

Greg Farley’s fiddle playing is also integral to the band’s appeal, sometimes boldly taking the lead as if daring his bandmates to follow, at others serving as filigree. The rhythm section deserves praise as well, with bassist Josh Rawson anchoring the band’s sound amidst the swirling maelstrom conjured by accordion, fiddle and guitar. Drummer David Estabrook, seated behind a modest kit that Neil Peart would consider carry-on luggage, never resorted to flash, even during his oh-so-brief solo turn during “Whiskey in My Whiskey,” content instead to just summon the perfect beat for each song.

The Felice Brothers mastery of dynamics is uncanny, mixing ballads, Cajun stomps and every so often the occasional guitar rave-up. From the opening “Girl in the Black Velvet Band” to the closing “Jack at the Asylum,” this band demanded your near-complete attention and rewarded it in spades.

Opening act Driftwood gave a compelling performance as well, with shared vocals and spirited fiddle playing. They have a great arrangement of Townes Van Zandt’s “Waiting Around to Die” – instead of treating it like a weepie ballad, their version gathers momentum like a runaway train.

If a few more shows of this caliber follow recent visits by Alejandro Escovedo and Tower of Power, the Cohoes Music Hall is poised to become one of the foremost venues on the local scene.

LIVE: The Felice Brothers @ Rockin’ On the River, 7/20/16
LIVE: The Felice Brothers @ Club Helsinki, 3/17/14
LIVE: The Felice Brothers & Eastbound Jesus @ Jillian’s, 5/11/12
LIVE: A Weekend with the Felice Brothers, 3/25-26/11
LIVE: The Felice Brothers @ MASS MoCA, 1/15/11

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