Recording information: Old Beacon High School, Beacon, NY.
Celebration, Florida is a planned community just a stone's throw from the Walt Disney World theme park that was initially developed by the Disney corporation as an experiment in moving the corporate brand into the ultimate in lifestyle marketing. The 11 stories that comprise the Felice Brothers' fifth album (and first for Fat Possum) don't deal explicitly with life in Celebration, even though the town gives the album its title, but the name does seem appropriate for a collection of tunes in which things don't always seem to match their surfaces or expectations. Celebration, Florida finds the Felice Brothers moving gracefully but deliberately from the organic, folk-oriented sound of their early work; while the eclecticism and stylistic wanderlust of the Band is still a touchstone, the hip-hop-influenced rhythms and found sounds of "Found at the Pageant" and "Ponzi," and the electronic textures in "Back in the Dancehalls" (which also includes a lyrical nod the Geto Boys) show the group isn't shy about adding new colors to their palette, but even though this album may sound different, the aim remains very much the same, as do the Felice Brothers' strengths. The homey surrealism of the lyrics conjures powerful images while letting obscurity work in their favor ("Cus's Catskill Gym" may be the first rock song to find something genuinely tragic in the story of Mike Tyson), and Ian Felice's Dylanesque vocals sound well-worn but expert and eloquent at the same time, finding valuable details in the nooks and crannies of the songs. The group plays with impressive ensemble abilities, the pieces fitting together like a well-designed jigsaw puzzle, and if this isn't a band of virtuosos, they've learned how to shape their sounds to their own purposes with impressive results. And the crashing dynamics and fiery conclusion of "River Jordan" suggest the Felice Brothers could be evolving into Upstate New York's answer to Thee Silver Mount Zion Orchestra. Celebration, Florida is a brave step forward for the Felice Brothers, but one taken with care and confidence, and it's a powerful achievement from a talented and genuinely important band. ~ Mark Deming
Spin (p.96) - "Ian Felice's voice ranges from carny-barker, wise-guy cackle to anguished moan, especially on the closing dirge 'River Jordan'..."
Record Collector (magazine) (p.93) - 3 stars out of 5 -- "[I]t's an endlessly intriguing puzzle that brings forth more clues and red herrings with each play."