Simone Felice, as you may know from his work with the porch-stompin’ folk heros the Felice Brothers, is the sort of guy who will compare himself to a sparrow or a swallow, and then talks about golden handkerchiefs and banquets and “grown-ups”—as if they were a foreign thing—without a hint of a smirk. But once you get past these lyrical idiosyncrasies (and there are a few), you can move on to the heart of the matter: his almost prodigal voice and barely-there instrumentation. This will allow you to forgive those idiosyncrasies, or even forget them completely.
Strangers is Felice’s second solo LP after 2012′s self-titled effort in which he bulked up his persona as the nomadic troubadour with a slightly swollen heart. Because, if Simone Felice is anything, he’s anachronistic. He’s a wounded loner whose preferred method of transportation is freight train-hopping. He’s a 19th century wanderer with a guitar on his back. If you want something that could’ve only been made in 2014, you’ve come to the wrong place. But if you’re looking for a timeless narrative of love and loss that will always be relevant, pull up a chair.
Album opener, Bastille Day, has Felice mourning the loss of a woman using delicate keys and an almost-breaking cadence. If You Go To L.A. is your typical “meeting a girl in a strange place” ballad, with one hushed guitar and Felice asking a fellow traveler to tell an old lover that he’s “doing fine.” Heartland has Felice posing as an isolated bleeding-heart looking for a home with marathon-like fervor.
The album’s strongest moments come when Felice settles on his deep, lush baritone and considers using it in favor of poetic lyrics or complex instrumentation. For example, The Best That Money Can Buy, which uses only a guitar, a violin and a tinkling bell, until the middle of the track when a horn comes in and Felice weaves his stark croon through its brassy notes. The album’s closer, Running Through My Head, ends strong, its rootsy, soul-flecked sound building to a crescendo of organic harmonies and echoing guitars. This is the biggest moment on the album; the previous tracks usually tread much more lightly. Maybe Felice keeps things minimal because that way, it’s easier for him to keep on moving.