“Simone Felice,” Simone Felice (Team Love)
Performers are merchants, and listeners have to buy what they’re selling.
Not just literally. People generally have to make an emotional connection to a performer in order to become fans.
That’s especially critical for singer-songwriters like Simone Felice.
Whereas pop, rock and rap stars can afford to be a little disingenuous, Felice has to come across as completely sincere if his audience is going to bite on his intimate, offbeat and earnest songs.
And frankly, that’s hard to do.
The former drummer for The Felice Brothers and founder of The Duke & The King is full-on folk singer on his new solo debut. A real-life backstory that includes his 2010 open-heart surgery gives compelling context for his dramatic first- and third-person tales on “Simone Felice.” Plus the New Yorker’s histrionic delivery is an admirably gutsy move for an artist.
Unfortunately, it sounds too contrived — and even creepy at times. That’s undoubtedly his intent on “Ballad of Sharon Tate,” where he gasps his way through a recount of the starlet’s 1969 murder at the hands of Charlie Manson’s cult, asking, “Did you see what they wrote on the door?” as if he just learned of the atrocity. But his disquieting tone doesn’t seem so appropriate when he sings to the titular character of “Courtney Love,” “Take a chance and come away with me” or when he waltzes back through childhood on “Stormy-Eyed Sarah”: “We sang ‘Eleanor Rigby’/We smoked a joint/And then you told a secret.”
Supported by low-key/stark arrangements (apart from periodic appearances by a choir), Felice’s quavering voice goes on to relay stories about a South Dakota Native American who steals a vehicle (“New York Times”), an abusive guy born on the Fourth of July (“Hey Bobby Ray”), a disaffected guy in a jumpsuit (“Charade”) and a hard-luck boy (“Dawn Brady’s Son”) where a kerosene lamp and a gun come into play.
The affectations of Felice’s dark and important-sounding world will be too much for many to take. However, the peculiar “Simone Felice” will resonate deeply with some who marvel at his bold imagination.
Rating (five possible): 2-1/2