The Felice Brothers have always had a bit of a problem with the notion of creative growth. Much of the appeal of their work has been rooted in their slightly ragged approach, where the eclectic Americana of the Band is filtered through the minds of people who like to sleep late and occasionally have a beer for breakfast. If they tighten up too much, where does that leave them? 2019's Undress finds them wrestling with this dilemma, as they sometimes have in the past, and just as they try to find the sweet spot between professionalism and amiable amateurism, they're also figuring out how to be serious in a time that merits a bit of deep thought. They've shown they can make room for maturity on Celebration, Florida and Yonder Is the Clock, though they've been less concerned with such matters on Favorite Waitress and Life in the Dark. On Undress, the Felice Brothers are determined to have it both ways; the title cut suggests we can end America's political and social divide by everyone getting naked, and on "Special Announcement," Ian Felice declares he's running for president on a platform of burning down Wall Street, redistributing the wealth, hobbling corporate power, and putting Charlie Parker on the ten-dollar bill. Most of the other tracks on Undress lean to either silliness or more somber character studies rather than mixing up the moods, but the overall tone puts the ups and downs of people's lives up front, and if the politics are essentially implicit, the broad banner of ordinary folks making the best of tough times covers a lot of ground here. The Felice Brothers tracked Undress live to tape, with horn players sitting in on several tracks, which turns out to be a wise production choice. The band is in strong form, and the brass adds a touch of polish, but the give and take of a live performance helps Undress sound real and human even when it isn't as wobbly as usual. Undress sounds and feels like the Felice Brothers, capturing their loosely tight charm in a manner that honors both sides of the equation, and is certainly an above-average release in their canon.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming