(Photo by Lisa Johnson)
The band caught the attention of fans and critics alike with 2008's "The '59 Sound," one of the strongest albums of recent years. The album's mix of punk energy, soulful lyrics and all-around quality rock 'n' roll made it good when it was released and for years to come.
But as the release of "American Slang" approached, this critic was curious. Were these guys really that good or did they catch lightning in a bottle? The band's previous two releases, the 2007 album "Sink or Swim" and the early 2008 EP "Seņor and the Queen," were more directly punk and, quite simply, good but not great.
The new record confirms, though, that this is a great band on the rise, taking "The '59 Sound" and running with it, even expanding its reach.
As a New Jersey kid with a penchant for populist, heart-on-sleeve lyrics, singer and guitarist Brian Fallon has been compared to Bruce Springsteen so much it's become almost comical.
The comparisons are right on, though. Take a listen to the fourth track "The Diamond Church Street Choir" and say it wouldn't have fit on an early Boss album. Much like his hero, Fallon has the ability to write upbeat songs that are ultimately sad once you hear the lyrics.
This track is immediately followed by "The Queen of Lower Chelsea," a song that never could have been imagined on the group's first three releases. Its rhythm and entire presentation is certainly an exploration, but not in boring, psychedelic kind of way. It works perfectly.
The album isn't entirely a departure, though. The band displays continuity with the title track, "Stay Lucky" and "Boxer," any of which could have fit in nicely on "The '59 Sound."
The band also credits improved musicianship to the record's sound. Drummer Benny Horowitz and bassist Alex Levine are stronger than ever on these 10 tracks.
Likewise, Alex Rosamilia said he and Fallon have improved as guitarists, improving both their playing styles and their equipment, moving up from Fenders to Gibson Les Pauls.
Then again, Hendrix and Clapton both played Fenders. Great music comes from the players, and Rosamilia and Fallon could rock on ukuleles.
What really makes this album a leap forward is its variety. A high quality band, like a good pitcher, knows how to change speeds. As great as the last record might have been, it tended to play like one long track, albeit an outstanding track.
So with "American Slang," the Gaslight Anthem accomplishes something so many bands fall short of -- a second big leap forward. As good as they were in 2008, they're even better in 2010.
I can't wait to see what 2012 brings, but in the meantime I have two sweet records to pass the time.
Music addicts are always looking forward to what's next. The calendar is marked with dates when the next big record drops. Unfortunately, most of them turn out to be disappointments.
Occasionally, though, an artist gives us exactly what we wanted with just enough of a twist to excite us even more. For a while, we stop looking forward and enjoy right where we are.
"American Slang" is one of those records. Tracks like "American Slang," "Boxer," "The Spirit of Jazz" and "Stay Lucky" are exactly what we were wanting. On the other hand, "The Diamond Church Street Choir," "The Queen of Lower Chelsea" and "We Did It When We Were Young" are the songs we didn't know we wanted.
This album is worth a spin for anyone who loves rock 'n' roll.
Released: June 15 on SideOneDummy Records
The Gaslight Anthem is: Brian Fallon-vocals, guitar; Benny Horowitz-drums; Alex Levine-bass; Alex Rosamilia-guitars
Producer: Ted Hutt