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Music Review - 'What Kind of World?' by Arlan Feiles (dm)

Arlan Feiles  - What Kind of World?  (Click to watch the video)

17 December 2019



The songs of Arlan Feiles typify the late Ralph Ellison’s suggestion that people must cultivate the ability to “live with music” rather than “die with noise.” His songwriting skills are sufficiently sharp to validate his resume of working with The Band, Tom Dowd, and Dave Grohl, and his voice has the intimate soul of early Tom Waits records. The arrangements of his songs are sparse, showcasing a comfort in a “less is more” approach that allows the ornamentation to enhance the power of his words and music.

Feiles is aspiring toward a service grander than musical acuity. He is attempting to enlist in the tradition of songwriters and performers that have used their art to affirm the best elements of human nature – solidarity, hope, and love.

Feiles’ sociopolitical material dares the listener to imagine a transcendent politics, unencumbered by the narrow interests of mainstream debate. The title track – a delightful exercise in folk-gospel – has Feiles reflecting on the world we are leaving for the next generation. It is not an entirely original sentiment, but one that is essential, and Feiles’ succeeds in making it feel fresh and urgent.

“50 Years of Kavanaugh” might worry some listeners, considering that when songs become overly specific in their subject matter, they can often feel contrived. Feiles ensures that his music avoids the trap of topicality, managing to make the monstrosity of Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment to the Supreme Court a haunting metaphor for a country currently committed to the demolition of civil rights and women’s rights. “50 Years of Kavanaugh” also manages to have an infectious melody, fully capturing Feiles’ capacity to not only write songs of profound lyricism, but to make sure those songs are good – really good.


The more introspective material has the emotional resonance, and musical characteristics, of early Elton John material. Feiles unites his two compositional worlds in the standout song of the record, “You Can’t Ban My Love.” The beauty of the song, and the message of love overcoming unjust law, finds magnificent accompaniment in Feiles’ affinity for folk-gospel.

“I Know a Song” has Feiles singing, “I know a song to sing when you cry…” giving country-spiritual amplification of music’s power soothe, comfort, and satiate deep wounds. With “What Kind of World?”, Feiles has given the world a collection of songs of exactly that utility.


 David Masciotra



David Masciotra ( is the author of four books, including Barack Obama: Invisible Man (Eyewear Publishing, 2017) and Mellencamp: American Troubadour (University Press of Kentucky, 2015).

To read all of David's reviews, click here 





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