Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Mike Gentry
Simone Felice, the eldest of the great Felice Brothers of the Woodstock, New York vicinity, told a story upon arrival at the studio here in Rock Island, not all that long ago about a man in the music publishing business that he took a meeting with recently in an American city known for its concentrated music scene, while playing a show there in town. He was being wined and dined and Felice was baiting him - sort of. He was ingesting all of the bullshit that was being lobbed out and into the air, pieces of conversation that would make many and certainly his brothers, even his brother-in-law (the one and only AA Bondy) laugh until their sides split out, and firing right back, upping the ante and delivering the energetic responses that he knew the man on the other side of the table would eat up like cheesecake covered in dollar bills. He told the slick fellow that he just wanted to make HITS, really emphasizing that word, squinting his brows and forming the "h" and "s" sounds as if he clearing his throat with a hack. He named off someone like Hall & Oates as an example of a hitmaker that he meant as an idol and the real funny part about it all wasn't that the man he was dining with told him - "I've always said, 'There isn't anything wrong with a hit," with a snake-like look in his lean eyes - but that Felice was only bending the desires of his heart of hearts. Felice does want to make hits, but these aren't the kinds of hits that people think of as hits anymore. These are hits from a yesteryear, when James Taylor, Bread and The Carpenters were making hits. It's when Neil Diamond was writing things like "Cherry, Cherry" and "Cracklin' Rosie." It's when Gilbert O'Sullivan was charting with "Alone Again (Naturally)," America was doing the same with "A Horse With No Name." With The Duke and the King, Felice has a side project that has he, The King (Robert Chicken Burke) and The Deacon (a man who seems to love Wu-Tang, breasts, old school professional wrestling, the cosmos and the Almighty in the same large amounts) making the kind of graceful and light hits of the early and mid-1970s, during those post Woodstock Festival years, as the ire over the Vietnam War was at its most exhausted and discouraged peak. Felice writes songs from the perspective of someone who not only has a feeling that things are only going to get more complicated, but has already witnessed it all. Many of the tracks on the group's gloriously understated and simplified debut album, "Nothing Gold Can Stay," involve a main character thinking nostalgically, when the music of his or her youth was a unifying fiber between a band of friends. These friends always sound as if they were the friends who drifted apart upon their high school graduation - on to colleges states apart, new girlfriends, buddies from elsewhere, new interests and maturity from out of nowhere and different priorities that are now defining, not extraordinary. Life has moved on exactly as it always does, really how it's meant to. And Felice comes to terms with this easily, in his own way, bridging an adolescence with all of the complexities of adulthood. It's as if the link he makes between his years - from then until now - is based on the music that was on the car and transistor radios, on the Walkman and cassette tapes when he was first discovering them and to bring it all back together again, he dives into what he first starting loving in American music. Felice addresses friends on "If You Ever Get Famous," and warns them to, "Say a prayer for your heart/Keep your eyes open and beware of the sharks/Cause they come out in the dark." He references a personal hero of his - Harriet Tubman - in "Water Spider," "Jesus walked on water/But so did Marvin Gaye/And Harriet/Did you hear they never caught her/She just slipped away," and he shows that he is an expert at slipping through time and country as well.
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