"Celebration, Florida" is The Felice Brothers' fourth LP. Recorded in the gymnasium and theatre of Beacon, NY's old high school, the band explore a multitude of sounds and instrumentation throughout the expansive album. It's inspired, imaginative, heady, menacing, passionate, and rollicking. Most importantly, it's as steadfastly authentic as ever, expanding upon the dark, woozy undercurrent of ramshackle barroom blues, vaudevillian atmospherics, and surreal storytelling of their previous albums
The Felice Brothers, inevitably for an American outfit trading in rootsy, wordy balladry, generally delivered in a belligerent nasal sneer, have become accustomed to being measured against Bob Dylan. Celebration, Florida, the Woodstock group's fifth album, marks the point at which those who've made those comparisons should commingle in a hearty chorus of "Judas!": as never before, The Felice Brothers have gone electric, and other things besides.
A marker for the wilful oddness of Celebration, Florida is thrown down on opening track Fire at the Pageant: one part of its call-and-response chorus is carried by a deliberately atonal children's choir. This departure from The Felice Brothers' familiar template is not, as is made repeatedly clear, an aberration: it is followed by Container Ship, a gloomy noir which sounds like the soundtrack for a horror film set in an abandoned fairground, and Honda Civic, an upbeat New Orleans blues shuffle recalling the demented accordion-led outings of DeVotchKa.
Celebration, Florida is named after a Disney-built new town, an apparent attempt to bring into being the sort of apple pie-munching community mythologized in Disney's output. It looks and sounds approximately akin to Seahaven, the Potemkin setting for The Truman Show; as such, it serves well as an antithetical backdrop to lyrics as disquieting and dissembling as the music. Oliver Stone is not homage to the titular director, but a beautiful Tom Waits-ish, hazy remembrance of things past. Ponzi resembles Dylan only inasmuch as it evokes his (largely) misbegotten 80s output, upping the ante further with a shout-along chorus borrowed from Pink Floyd's Another Brick in the Wall and a keyboard part heisted from Visage. Almost inexplicably, it works.
Celebration, Florida is not an unalloyed triumph. Too much of it commits the common error of mistaking innovation for inspiration - Back in the Dancehalls and Cus's Catskill Gym in particular might have decamped the drawing board somewhat prematurely. At its best and last, however - the epic, funereal closer River Jordan - Celebration, Florida is an engaging diversion down a road which might be worth investigating further.
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