Simone Felice Rewards Patience With Dramatic Highpoints On ‘All The Bright Coins’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

Simone Felice’s All The Bright Coins hearkens to Nothing Gold Can Stay, the first project he conducted (with Robert ‘Chicken” Burke) after leaving his band of Brothers. Not coincidentally, the songwriter/musician/poet/author’s fourth album under his own name is essentially a duo effort as well: a collaboration credited as ‘written and produced by Simone Felice and David Baron (who’s also designated as engineer and mixer).

As a result, this music is hardly so dense (to a fault?) as 2014’s Stranger or The Projector from four years later. On the contrary, it is stark and spacious, sometimes too much so. And while there are contributions from guest musicians at certain points—sibling Ian on “No Tomorrows” and bassist Tony Levin on “Bare Trees”–such tiny touches do nothing to undermine the elegant simplicity of superior tracks like “Year Around The Sun,” where Felice’s acoustic guitar and voice echoes around the elementary piano Baron plays and thus render palpable the forlorn ache within the composition itself.

That opener is of a piece with a heartrending reminiscence called “Moonlight Promises.” Simone’s brother James adds a harmony vocal to fill out an arrangement including organ and synths, but all those embellishments still leave the sound wide-open, as is also the case with the recitation of a panoply of images that comprise “All The Kings of Earth;” flashes of past, present, and future commingle to the quiet ring of the piano as a backdrop, but, unfortunately, The Webb Sisters’ vocals are virtually inaudible here, indicative of the fleeting impression left by some of All The Bright Coins.

Especially during the spoken-word interludes, this record may require inordinate patience, especially for audiences with limited attention spans. Still, as with Felice’s previous records, there are stirring moments. “Puppet” and “Radio Silence” are just two in which the solitary nature of  Simone’s best work finds optimum expression, such cuts like old photographs that turn striking to gaze upon, but only after close sustained perusal. So, a more tuneful approach would render the material even more accessible and thus markedly more memorable. 

Fortunately, this record ends in just such a fashion, in much the same way as it begins. On “After The Rain,” the soft strumming of an acoustic guitar meshes with gentle piano chords in support of resolute singing. The repetition at beginning and end lends continuity to the nine cuts in between, a succession of carefully-chosen perspectives on the hirsute, burly figure that appears in the black and white photos of this album cover. In a direct reflection of those images, Simone Felice is resplendent in his solitude during the recollection that is “90s,” then happy to lose himself in the company of others on “No Tomorrows” and “Prisoner.”

It may take repeated listenings over a period of time—plus no small honestly and self-awareness in a listener–to plumb the depths of introspection this artist (and his main collaborator) is aiming for here. And ultimately,  while All the Bright Coins may represent a Rorschach test for those hearing it, the bravery required in that context is no greater than that of its author(s), both of whom deserve commendation for their own patience and perseverance in creating this often dramatic piece of work.

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