Arlan Feiles is a patient man. He has experienced sights, sounds and relationships that most artists can only dream about. Sometimes that can be worse than never succeeding at all. The feeling of replaying a near miss is a painful and introspective experience for the performer who dreams bigger than everyday life. But Feiles, a piano tuner by trade, has never been one to give in and put on a tie for anything but a funeral or a wedding.
Feiles’ first true taste of success came with the band Natural Causes down in Miami, Florida. That union led to the recording, Bomb In A Shelter, which was the springboard that Feiles would use to push his music into the eventual attention field of Chris Blackwell (Island Records) and the production cradle of Dave Grohl.
That series of events would also lead to the eventual partnership with the legendary Tom Dowd, the man who was responsible for engineering and producing artists such as Eric Clapton, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Rod Stewart, The Allman Brothers, Willie Nelson and so many, many others. Feiles relationship with Dowd was that of student and mentor and that led to the recording of Troubled Monkey.
Dowd poured his soul and knowledge into Feiles’ enthusiastic mind. The two worked late into many a night, honing Feiles into a seasoned and laid back troubadour of the times. He was thrown into the big leagues head first by Island Records and Dowd, and that magical record included appearances by most of the Band, including Levon Helm as well as Rick Danko and keyboardist extraordinaire, Garth Hudson.
Dowd’s death from emphysema in 2002 was a huge personal setback for Feiles, who, upon losing his friend, took to the American highway for solace, drifting in and out of honky tonks and bars with his dog, Theo. He sold his CDs out of the back of his truck and did what he does best—continued to write and play music to anyone who would listen.
He would eventually come back on track by heading east and landing in the burgeoning Williamsburg scene of Brooklyn, where he formed a band called Gift Horse, and set about shaping what would eventually become “I’ve Got To Tell Ya.” That song became extremely popular and was used in the Ed Burns film, Sidewalks Of New York.
Feiles’ venture with The Lone Howdys and evolution to The Lone Orchestra, (a 12-piece Americana band) generated a relationship with producer Frank “Rat Bastard” Falestra (Marilyn Manson), and that partnership culminated in two high-level vehicles that put Feiles back on the playing field. The first was Razing A Nation, a disc that started turning heads here in the east and immediately garnering “Hot Tip” placement on the Euro Americana charts.
But to me, the project that put Feiles back in the actual ball game was Come Sunday Morning, a disc that yielded a number 15 placing on the Euro Americana charts. Arlan’s “Out Of The Dirt” was used in the award-winning film Handsome Harry and at least seven tunes can still be heard on the MTV show, 16 And Pregnant.
Arlan is back to further that success with a brand new disc that continues where Come Sunday Morning left off. His studio band is one of the strongest and the sounds are amazing on Weeds Kill The Wild Flowers.
Weeds Kill The Wild Flowers opens up with “Top Of The World,” a Glenn Tilbrook flavored number that features a palpitating, hypnotic bassline and a Fender Roads intro that paves the way for Feiles to muscle straight into the verse. Arlan’s voice is an interesting combination of Warren Zevon meets Ryan Adams with the distinct warble of Johnny Cash, and it’s immediately fitting. Backbeats pump as organs sustain across the middle. The guitar work percolates Steve Cropper style throughout, and features a dark, Harrison style slide in the middle eight that really lifts the song up into the final chorus.
His production collaboration with Falestra’s signature sounds is evident on “Fire Drill.” Liquid effects bump and roll lazily across the track with what I can only describe as sounds a submarine pilot might hear at 300 meters. Arlan leads off with a sparse, piano driven theme that centers the listener on his stark and gritty verse. Feiles hits hard with the chorus on this blue collar tune. Melodic and catchy, Feiles’ compositional swing ensures that you keep hitting rewind as he puts the hook in you. The Springsteen meets Chris Robinson vibe brings forth visions of dust-filled rest stops as staging stations for life on the back roads of America. But make no mistake, the style here is all Feiles, as he spins despondent visions of never-ending exasperation chased far too long out on the road to nowhere.
“Viola” is a sophisticated mainstay from Come Sunday Morning and it holds its ground well against the current material. My guess is that this was included due to it being more in sync with this new direction than it had on that previous release. Whatever the case, “Viola” is a phenomenal song. The track leads off with warm bells, pianos and horn surges (arranged and performed by Feiles) as the drumming of Bradley Gunyon sets the Woodstock tone. “Viola” rings with the spirit of Tom Dowd and Levon Helm and all that they imparted on Feiles from their time together. The arrangement sensibility is top-shelf and he knows just how to build his song without giving it all away in the first half. Background vocals soar high as the band nails this Americana lynchpin right to the barn door.
“Tomorrows Gonna Be A Better Day” is one of the disc hits. Drums skiffle lightly underneath analog warm pianos as the understated bass work of Dan B. Green keeps things grounded. Feiles’ melodic choices are dead-on and complemented beautifully by the accompaniment of singer-songwriter Emily Grove. His positive lyrical slant is accentuated by the great minor chord choice that jacks up the chorus with a simple, yet cleverly emotional change, setting the tone for the remainder of this great song.
“Weeds Kill The Wild Flowers” comes across with the soul of The James Gang. It’s country tinged rock that stands with the solid attitude of artists such as The Kentucky Headhunters and Drive-By Truckers. This is my second choice for standout track of the disc. Once again, Feiles comes up with an infectious chorus that drives this song all the way to the Union 76 truck stop. The guitar work is intricate and down home seasoned. With musicians such as Keith McCarthy (Sunday Blues) and Joel Schantz all over the CD, it’s hard to choose a certain favorite section or track. Moreover, the six-string assist of Corey Lederman, Feiles, and pedal steel guru Luke Reynolds puts this CD high on the list of guitar aficionado music.
Other outstanding disc mentions go to “Baby Come Clean” and “Listen To Your Heart Talk,” which features Feiles at his sunny California southern rock finest. The pedal steel work of Reynolds is pristine as he rolls in a haunting style similar to the great Bernie Leadon of The Eagles.
Weeds Kill The Wild Flowers has the substance and style to take Feiles to the top of that recognition ladder. It retains the open honesty that first gave him that spark, along with the ongoing growth of a writer who learned how to arrange, listen, learn and make the world of music all his own.
Perhaps it’s his well-versed belief in what he does, or maybe it’s the immortal spirit of Tom Dowd guiding him upwards and onwards. Whatever the case, Arlan Feiles has a winner with Weeds Kill The Wild Flowers and I know that for the musical future of Arlan Feiles, tomorrow is definitely gonna be a better day.
For more information on this disc and Arlan Feiles & The Broken Hearted, head over to arlanfeiles.com.