Simone Felice made his first trip to Australia just shy of a year ago and while he was here he had promised he would return with a band to help him bring his songs to life.

True to his word, Felice has returned, with a small collective made of Simi Stone on violin/vocals, Tommy Goss on drums and (along for this section of the tour) Melbournian Matt Green on mandolin and guitars. Hearing these songs filled out with a loose folk/country-rock backing gives you a better idea of what you get on a Simone Felice recording, if just a bit more raucous and loose than the smooth production he has recorded with.

Supporting Simone on this quick jaunt to Australia is the charming Josh Ritter. He was beaming on The Basement stage as he quite ably picked and sang for over a half-hour. Speaking of coming from Idaho and living in Adelaide when he was 17, Ritter could entertain with his stories alone. A support act you want to listen to, the highlight being his rendition of the 2010 song, “Change Of  Time”. He gave an audience, that seemed to be very familiar with his work, an endearing set; leaving the stage to a very loud – and deserved – ovation.

The Simone Felice Band took to the stage not long after to equally warm reception, commencing the night with “New York Times” from his latest CD.  Having put out some records as The Felice Brothers and under the guise of The Duke And The King, this was truly the first time Simone has toured for a release under his own name.

When last put on solo display, he kept everyone focused and listening.  Tonight, with a chance for him to share the spotlight, it appeared that he was less nervous as he performed.  Digging into his small, but intriguing, catalogue of Americana/Folk, Felice sings about broken hearts, broken minds, and rebirth. “Summer Morning Rain”, “One More American Song” and “Union Street” summed up the styles of his prose and music. Close your eyes; we have a true storyteller in the house.

“You And I Belong”, written about his daughter Pearl, was announced as his ‘smash hit’ (tongue firmly planted in cheek) and, along with his band, he delivered a raucous rendition with some lovely fiddle throughout.

Following was “If I Ever Get Famous”, a song that gets better  as the years go on. Taken from the first Duke and The King release, it gives something new with each listen, including goose bumps.

Simone also writes some of the best anti-war songs around. The aforementioned “One More American Song” one of the best in the last decade, “Shaky” – with a bouncy delivery, belies the lyrical content about a young man who came back from Iraq with injuries that no one sees.

Mixing some solo performances in through the night gave a good blend of what Felice and his friends can do. The songwriter can easily hold your attention with his vocals and guitar as he did on his first tour, but his closing numbers tonight were almost a carbon copy of the setlist a year ago.

Save for the addition of Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released”, which was rolled out after “Radio Song” – dedicated to the patron Saint of Woodstock, Levon Helm. “Your Belly In My Arms” slowed things down a wee bit and then Josh Ritter joined the fray for a mash up of Neil Young’s “Helpless” with “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door”; giving the The Basement audience a chance to warm their vocal chords. Throw in Springsteen’s “Atlantic City” and the musical DNA of this Felice Brother is spilt on the boardwalk for all to see.

Although there is a similarity in his melodies and lyrical content over a night of music, as there is with any artist, the light that shines makes up for that over and over again. With his star continuing to rise and his profile becoming larger in the US (he will soon tour with Mumford and Son and Dawes in the US), we can expect to hear more from this upstanding gentleman from Upstate New York.

– Paul Busch