Felix Hatfield – False God
This may be the first time an artist takes virtually novelty-like music to a serious level. It’s engaging, clever & always interesting. Portland’s Felix Hatfield’s vocals are a bit thin, old-timey raspy, but that’s the appeal. His songs have a quality of eccentricity as Tom Waits, Captain Beefheart & Chuck E Weiss. Deep clarinet sounds & other unorthodox instruments.
Hatfield doesn’t tap a new vein; Others have injected humor into a serious composition. In the 60s Don Bowman, Jack Clement each did “My Voice Is Changing on Me,” & later Boots Walker’s “They’re Here,” & “A Bum Can’t Cry.”
With the release (Oct 23) of False God (Fangbite Records) Felix treads lightly through humor & produces well-written & arranged themes. “False God,” has a little sax work as support but Felix’s voice is still saloon-style in quality. His showcase: head & shoulders above anything amateurish or silly. Felix is not a classic folk singer or Grand Ole Opry country vocalist. He has an abundance of style.
“Walking Distance,” conjured memories of the crazed strongman Zampano & his clown girl assistant from the Fellini film “La Strada.” Maybe Felix has been with them. His lyrics sustain songs with a tough storytelling fiber.
“Train to London,” may be hard on the ears but listen to the tale, the words – they’re excellent. A hobo-story with distinction comes in “Nobody for Me,” as it delves into a saloon Dixieland tempo. Felix adds vintage country vocal inflections which elevate the tune to its own otherworldly John Prine-Townes van Zandt quality. Buddy Miller could do this, but he’d hardly get the chuckle & tear Felix would.
I don’t think Hatfield is heir-apparent to John Prine but he’s close. He’s got the stories., tells them with sincerity. His choice of instrumentation sets him apart from comparison to Prine. There’s more absurdity, tricksters, jug-band air, a charm to the outcasts & underdogs Felix sings about. These were all recorded in his basement studio (must be good equipment).
His sense of humor taps into the attempts David Seville (Ross Bagdasarian – The Chipmunks). Seville’s jazz-piano heavy instrumental “Almost Good,” & his pop song “Witch Doctor,” are samples of inventive lunacy.
A serious cut “The Kiss,” is superb. Sung with Esme Patterson the musical effects have a sophisticated noir quality contrary to what a regular musician would do. Tom Waits & Brecht/Weil would approve. “Her Crazy Days,” digs into a vocal akin to Ralph Stanley. That’s crazy. Crazy good. The instrumentation added is Randy Newman & Van Dyke Parks oriented. Clever stuff.
The musician: Nate Lumbard (bass/sax/clarinet/xylophone/piano); Jolie Holland, Stefan Jecusco, Kendall Core, Stevie Weinstein-Foner, Ayla Lovera & Oscar Fang & the Gang (vocals); Dave Kelsey (drums); Joel Ricci (trumpet); Toussaint Perault (trombone); Susannah Low-Beer (fiddle/vocals); Phillipe Bronchstien (lap steel); Taylor Tuke (piano); Susan Reilly (cello) & Karla Mi Lugo (whistle).
Are these tunes going to appeal to everyone? No. Will some find it clever? Absolutely.
The 13-cut, 46-minute CD will be available at http://www.felixhatfield.com/