A week ago Tuesday, celebrated American poet and songwriter Simone Felice seduced Edinborians with his intoxicating blend of life-affirming word-smithery and country-infused roots-rock.

During the gig, Simone proved that he effortlessly juggles edgy, unsettling intensity with gallows humour. This trait was particularly well demonstrated during some of his anecdotes: for example, one minute he would remember how, during his adolescence, he and a best friend enthusiastically used to listen from anything to Tom Petty, the Stones and even Cindy Lauper (twinkle in his eyes) on a Walkman… followed by the next minute’s revelation that his friend’s father, a Vietnam veteran, hung himself and the mother turned into a slut. How’s that for banter? Such verbal blows were gently softened by exquisitely performed ballads, though in this case (‘Dawn Brady’s Son’) the song turned out to be an extension of the aforementioned anecdote - thus making it all the more heartbreaking.
On a par was ‘Our Lady Of The Gun’, a very poignant song about America’s controversial relationship with, as the title suggests, guns.

Simone’s songs are as much observational as they are deeply personal. For someone who encountered family tragedy as well as two brushes with death, exorcising those demons via means of music and poetry is undoubtedly the best route to recovery. At least it is for him or so it would seem.
One of the highlights was the intimate ‘Bye Bye Palenville’, a touching ballad about the inner conflict of leaving home and family behind (“I can never understand how a living breathing man can run away and leave his kids in the cold”). Palenville in the Catskill Mountains is, by the way, home to Simone. But there were faster paced and more upbeat tunes as well, for example the catchy, almost pop-infused ‘You And I Belong’ and the uplifting ‘Molly-O’ – one of the best songs of the set.

Sardonic humour runs through ‘Gettysburg’ and our troubadour took this as an opportunity to emphasize the lyrics with the aid of his trademark madly intense stare… in parts amusing, in parts a reminder that here is an artist better not to be messed with. Mission accomplished, for not one soul in the audience dared to interrupt in any way, far from it – everyone enthusiastically joined in when Simone encouraged them to sing along to the refrain of next song ‘Running Through My Head’. “You know what it’s like when you are walking in the cold and suddenly someone puts his arms around you and asks you into their warm place. So, can we song together? You’re sure?” he joked.

The songs, a mix of Felice Brothers hits, tracks from his brilliant new album ‘Strangers’, as well as a few surprises, all were performed in stripped-back version with only two truly gifted musicians (Martin on dobro/banjo and Gabriel on cello) for backup. One of these surprises came when Simone performed the Scottish folk classic ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’ – so hauntingly beautiful in fact, some members of the audience were moved to tears! During the rendition, Gabriel heightened the experience by adding a truly astonishing cello solo. Whilst original ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’ composer Francis McPeake dedicated the song to his first wife, Simone dedicated it to a close friend who passed away last November. “He was the original Woodstock hippy”, revealed the singer fondly. “It was a Sunday afternoon, the sun was shining, and we buried him on a hill. Then we played this song for him which we got from you guys.” No wonder the audience was reduced to tears!
When not playing the guitar, Simone occasionally took to the drum kit, adding a dash of aggressiveness (especially for his take on Dylan and Young) to the skilfully executed instrumentation, thus balancing the sonic melancholy of some of the repertoire with harsher sounds.

Simone thanked the audience for coming along to the gig despite it being a Tuesday night, though it must be said that for a ‘quiet’ Tuesday night the turnout in this intimate little venue was surprisingly good… further testimony to Simone Felice’s popularity. As he revealed, he loves it up here and one of his best friends, a sailor, is a native of Edinburgh. Well then, we look forward to welcome Simone and his band back soon!

(© Photo of Simone by Andreia Vane / 2014)