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Nick Ferrio & His Feelings – Introducing Nick Ferrio & His Feelings

Nick Ferrio & His Feelings

★★★★☆ 

Nick Ferrio is a country singer-songwriter from Peterborough, ON who has played bass for The Burning Hell for the past six years. Now, Ferrio is venturing out with a solo effort of exquisite country songs under the cleverly named (and inarguably fitting) backing band moniker of Nick Ferrio & His Feelings.

The nine songs that comprise Introducing Nick Ferrio & His Feelings are a refreshing combination of the sort of old-school country the sort that Willie, Merle, and George Jones played with heart and gusto. They have the feel of lost classics captured with vintage recording equipment, and they’re brought to vivid life with Ferrio’s poignant, often clever, and always heartfelt storytelling. Ferrio’s music is not the brand of bloated, overproduced country that floods radio stations and halftime shows. His songs are the sort carved from tens of thousands of miles touring across rural landscapes, lyrics scribbled upon napkins on Formica tables in greasy spoons, and Dylan and Hank records spinning on the turntable in the corner while you dance in the kitchen with the one you love hours after dark.

Ferrio’s voice and music get in your bones and make you keep inching closer, like a spitting campfire under the stars on a chilly autumn night. These are songs with a skilled, if refreshingly unglamorous, old-school country voice with an ear for romantic-minded storytelling. Ferrio utilizes much to his great advantage here – lilting lap steel, Sun Records-style chugging tempos, rousing guitar lines, and a pure knack for classicist country melodies; but Ferrio’s strongest asset is his ability to write clever, romantic everyman lyrics that register as witty heartache poetry, rather than the kind that strike the listener as overly trivial or sentimental. He is a keen observer of human emotions and longings, and he slides knowing human feelings into songs that precisely capture the spirit of country music at its best.

Much of the vast heart within the album is rooted in a knowingness of love and the yearning for it when it’s out of reach. It’s a theme that predates country music, but it sounds damn fine to discover it brought to life so strongly on a debut album, especially in a time when popular music skirts essential heartache altogether or polishes and neuters it with incessant melisma or recording gimmickry.

The album opens with “Night Garden,” and it utilizes the simplest of metaphors to sum up life on the road while the one you love is back at home.

All these cities and all these towns / And the places I’ve found / They don’t compare to your garden for me… Your branches and vines / How I wish they were mine / Oh, how I long to be in your garden again

“Popular Flower” calls to mind the great George Jones (Ferrio’s favorite poet) with Ferrio’s tearful ruminations of women dressed up as intoxicating flowers. In the chorus, he sings, “You’re the state flower of the Volunteer State, Tennessee.” He follows with cutting self-deflation.

But I / I’m no garden flower / I’m a cut when you shave / I’m the one who just barely makes it / Before it’s too late.

“Always Searching” is the most jarring and divisive of Introducing…’s songs on first listen, but the resounding, catchy honesty of it makes it one of the most essential tracks on successive listens. Yet another song drenched in Ferrio’s favorite theme, “Always Searching” brazenly cuts through every ounce of fat to get to the heart of miscommunication and games between men in women in the pursuit of romance. The song opens with “I’m always searching for the way to say the things I wanna say,” before diving into the list of complications (phone wires, crowded vans, misinterpreted codes) that get in the way of saying what the woman “really wants to hear.”

On that note, Ferrio rips into full release with a chorus of “I wanna fuck you, fuck you, fuck you,” It’s a perfectly matched volley with an equal sentiment bouncing back courtesy of female accompaniment. It’s the only song of its kind on Introducing…, and it’s bound to offend some and be skipped; it’s the kind of refrain that would’ve given Tipper Gore a psychotic break back in 1984. It’ll be nothing less than a goddamned shame if that’s the case, because “Always Searching” gets everything right with honesty and biting wit better than thousands of rock, rap, country, and pop songs that have come before it.

“Free Man, Switzerland” is Ferrio’s autobiographical account of finding himself detained in a Swiss jail. It’s a true winner that would’ve fit squarely on either side of Nashville Skyline. The is fleshed out with moaning lap steel behind Ferrio’s skilled first-person narrative, soars upon Ferrio’s chorus of “I’m a free man, Switzerland. I’m a rock that can’t be stopped,” and sprints for the border with a blistering electric guitar at its back.

Ferrio digs up a bouncing Man in Black chug and a fiddle bridge for the fantastic cut “Otonabee,” a song that sounds calls to mind one of the Billy Bragg-fronted gems on either of the Mermaid Avenue albums culled from Woody Guthrie’s journals.

“Story’s Long, Story’s Old” ranks alongside the best of the rock-influenced country with indelible hooks that Old 97’s have reliably cranked out for almost two decades. As on the rest of Introducing…, Ferrio achieves the brand of underrated pop lyric perfection on “Story’s Long, Story’s Old” that Rhett Miller and Murray Hammond have ingeniously crafted since Hitchhike to Rhome. In the chorus, Ferrio sings, “A fight broke out / a lover’s quarrel / but for him and her / that was normal / they went separate ways / he went south / and she went north.”

“The Trial of Mary Harshburger” is Ferrio’s interpretation of a real-life account of a woman who mistakenly shot her husband on a hunting trip in Newfoundland after mistaking him for a bear. The song is every bit of the cross-section of Dylan’s mid-‘60s newspaper-inspired lyricism and Willie country that Ferrio counts as influences.

“Kollsnischer Park” is an almost too-pretty song with gentle, waltzing verses to tell the story of two brown bears who reside in a bear pit in a park in Berlin. The song gains power in the chorus as Ferrio sings about the bears waiting for soccer balls to go over the wall, so they can “slash them with their claws and crush them with their jaws.” It’s a fine, pensive song, but it feels a touch misplaced anywhere in the sequencing of the album.

Fortunately, Ferrio rounds out his debut effort with a song of simple, transcendent beauty on “We Sang Together.” It’s the sort of poignant, layered ditty that Idaho folk prodigy Josh Ritter has written with unparalleled perfection for the past decade.  Here, Ferrio sings, “When we sang together/ it felt like we could sing forever / we sang country songs / and we sang them all night long / we sang together…You said didn’t like my songs and I maybe I got it wrong / Now we don’t sing together / So when I sing harmony / There’s no one singing here with me / ‘Cause old country songs were meant to be sung alone / But now we don’t sing together.”

Introducing Nick Ferrio & His Feelings is far from the coolest record that will come across your path in the near future, but it stands right up to a rich history and carries the sort of lingering impact that is all too rare these days. Ferrio’s songs, like your most beloved denim clothes and leather boots, gain indispensable character and become more irreplaceable with every wear.

Ferrio isn’t the only one writing this caliber of songs with a burning country heart; Justin Townes Earle, Hayes Carll, Caitlin Rose, Old 97’s, Jason Isbell, Josh Ritter, and many other songwriters with gifted voices and old souls are crafting songs on par with the collection Nick Ferrio has debuted. Unfortunately, all of these guys are the struggling crops in an arid mainstream landscape. As more attention is brought to each, the odds of a bountiful seasonal harvest increase. Let us hope Introducing Nick Ferrio & His Feelings brings the attention and accolades its namesake deserves.

 

Nick Ferrio & His Feelings is out now (released 9/18) via Shuffling Feet Records.

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