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Album Review: Brian Fallon – Sleepwalkers

 
By on Thursday, 8th February 2018 at 12:00 pm
 

brian fallon Sleepwalkers coverAmerican rocker Brian Fallon already has a busy schedule for the early part of 2018. He will embark on a UK headline tour with his current band, The Howling Weather at the end of this month, which will be followed by North American dates extending through the spring. His summer plans include headline shows and festivals with former band The Gaslight Anthem in celebration of the 10th anniversary of their hit album ‘The ’59 Sound’.

Fallon’s upcoming solo shows are in support of his new LP ‘Sleepwalkers’, which like his previous studio effort, 2016’s ‘Painkillers’, will probably be stronger live than on recording. Thematically, Fallon’s songwriting on ‘Sleepwalkers’ dwells in those aching moments in life when the stars don’t quite align. He takes on the role of romantic anti-hero very well, and his earnest sincerity is undeniable. Musically, ‘Sleepwalkers’ is an extension of the folk rock sound Fallon developed on ‘Painkillers’, but with a bit more of the anthemic gospel of The Gaslight Anthem added to the mix. Opening tracks ‘If Your Prayers Don’t Get to Heaven’ and ‘Forget Me Not’ are prime examples, though the subtle restraint in the former and the perspective shift in the final chorus of the latter both come as pleasant surprises.

‘Sleepwalkers’ doesn’t have many well-defined high or low points in terms of dramatic tension and intensity. Its tempos and dynamics are cranked up high through the first part of the tracklisting, almost monotonously so, with the exception of standout track ‘Etta James.’ Fallon is probably sick to death of the constant Springsteen comparisons, but he really does choose fortunate moments to channel his fellow New Jersey predecessor, and the soulful, slow burning ‘Etta James’ is one of those.

Later in the album sequence, there is more variety, as in the folk-leaning dance instrumentation of ‘Proof of Life’ and the brass-tinged jazz rhythms of title track ‘Sleepwalkers’. Unfortunately, Fallon’s half-spoken/half-sung delivery isn’t melodic enough to lift the heavy, square melodies and the overall effect is a bit dragging. His slurred vocal delivery works better in the country-tinged ‘Watson’ whose clever, if slightly awkward, lyrical metaphor finds him singing in character, “I’m worried when I’m old I’ll be lonesome / chasing all the umbrellas in London”. Fallon’s signature gritty vocals, along with hard-edged guitars and pounding drums, are central to ‘My Name is the Night (Color Me Black)’, which though lyrically a bit trite, finds some dynamic variety without losing any of its emotional intensity.

Album closer ‘See You on the Other Side’ is a stripped-back guitar ballad that exposes both Fallon’s strengths and his weaknesses. Its verse lyrics, where he pledges to “spend my life in your majesty’s service / and call myself satisfied”, create a nice symmetry with an earlier track, but his unnuanced vocal delivery doesn’t quite overcome the square, singsong quality of the chorus.

Fallon’s solo efforts continue to vex me to a certain degree. His public persona (both on stage and in interviews) is so thoughtful and genuinely charismatic that I find myself truly *wanting* to like his songs. Taken individually, the songs on ‘Sleepwalkers’ are strong, but the album as a whole falls slightly short of its potential. In the end, with ‘Sleepwalkers’ as with ‘Painkillers’, it comes down to a toss-up between Fallon’s singing and his lyrics. I feel absolutely sure that at some point, there will come a magical moment when Brian Fallon hits the target on both at the same time, but as yet, that hasn’t materialised.

7/10

‘Sleepwalkers’, Brian Fallon’s second solo LP, is out tomorrow, Friday the 9th of February, on Virgin EMI. TGTF’s past coverage of Brian Fallon is collected through here, and our previous coverage of The Gaslight Anthem is back here.

 

Video of the Moment #2752: Brian Fallon

 
By on Thursday, 7th December 2017 at 6:00 pm
 

Alt-rock songwriter Brian Fallon has just unveiled the new promo video for his recent single ‘Forget Me Not’, which is slated to appear on his upcoming LP ‘Sleepwalkers’. The new album is due for release on the 9th of February 2018 on Virgin EMI. In support of ‘Sleepwalkers’, Fallon will play a run of shows in the UK at the end of February; you can find all the details of that tour back through here. The ‘Forget Me Not’ video is suitably reminiscent in its throwback theme, as Fallon explains in its press release. “The video was inspired by the black and white promotional films from the early British r&b bands – The Animals, The Who – and then mixed with the punk rock shows where I started. No stage and the crowd right next to you. All for one, no walls to separate the band and the audience. I wanted to recapture some of that here.”

Now that he mentions it, the up-close-and-personal atmosphere in this promo isn’t so different from the vibe at Fallon’s live show in Tucson back in 2016. Our review of that show is right back here, and our complete previous coverage of Brian Fallon is conveniently collected here.

 

Brian Fallon / February 2018 UK Tour

 
By on Monday, 30th October 2017 at 9:00 am
 

American singer/songwriter Brian Fallon has announced the follow-up to his 2015 debut solo album ‘Painkillers’. The new LP will be titled ‘Sleepwalkers’ and is due for release on the 9th of February 2018 on Virgin EMI. Just after the new album comes out, Fallon and his band The Howling Weather will embark on a UK tour, including stops in Manchester, Glasgow and London. Below the tour date listing, you can have a listen to the album’s first single ‘Forget Me Not’, which Fallon describes as being a bit contradictory to his intentions. “I was thinking how every song doesn’t have to be so serious”, he says. “It can just be fun. It can just be a song that I would want to play live. ‘Forget Me Not’ came out in just a couple of minutes and actually ended up being pretty serious – it seems my subconscious had other plans.”

Support for the UK tour will be played by fellow American songwriter Dave Hause. Tickets for the following shows are available now (please note that the London show has already sold out). TGTF’s previous coverage of Brian Fallon as a solo artist is through here, and our prior coverage of the band he fronts (fronted?) The Gaslight Anthem is collected back here.

Tuesday 20th February 2018 – Birmingham Institute
Wednesday 21st February 2018 – Manchester Ritz
Thursday 22nd February 2018 – Glasgow ABC
Friday 23rd February 2018 – London Koko (sold out)
Saturday 24th February 2018 – Nottingham Rock City
Sunday 25th February 2018 – Bristol SWX

 

(SXSW 2016 flavoured!) Album Review: Brian Fallon – Painkillers

 
By on Wednesday, 9th March 2016 at 12:00 pm
 

Brian Fallon Painkillers coverIn the wake of the Gaslight Anthem’s current “indefinite hiatus”, frontman Brian Fallon has struck out on his own with a cathartic new album titled ‘Painkillers’.  Produced by Butch Walker, who has recently helmed albums by Frank Turner and Ryan Adams, the album has a very definite alt-country flavour, which comes as perhaps a welcome change of pace for Fallon himself as well as for his listeners.

The LP’s eponymous track neatly sums things up, with Fallon’s vocals harshly exposed in the raw, rough-edged chant of a chorus “we want love like it was a drug / all we wanted was a little relief / and every heart I held in between / they were painkillers to me”. Vocals in the forefront of the sound mix is normally positive for a stripped back, folk rock album like this one, but it’s a less-than-advantageous placement for Fallon, whose singing voice becomes abrasive and tiring to the ear after only a few songs. The songs themselves, however, are engaging and often anthemic as Fallon plays to his songwriting strengths, for example in the upbeat and uplifting opening track ‘A Wonderful Life’.

‘Among Other Foolish Things’ takes a more reflective tack, starting with the line “Lily, I don’t know how to start this letter…” and ending with the recollection “…there was this one time, when I painted a masterpiece / among other foolish things”. Sandwiched between this and the gently rocking ballad ‘Steve McQueen’ is the recently unveiled ‘Smoke’, which features Fallon’s gritty vocals over a classic alt-country combination of acoustic guitar, piano and drums. Its off-kilter chorus is wordy and not exactly catchy, but its second repeat is followed by an equally off-kilter key change whose harmony turns out to be both deliberate and interesting.

[youtube]https://youtu.be/v63oiBV4IGI[/youtube]

Mid-album tracks ‘Nobody Wins’ and ‘Rosemary’, which came across as much more engaging in Fallon’s live perfomance in Tucson last month, fall a bit flat in the studio recording, as the heavy sound compression and Fallon’s pressed vocals begin to take their toll on the listener’s ear. Nevertheless, memorable lyrics shine through in the singalong chorus of the former song and the emotive delivery of the lines “everybody’s hurt and mine ain’t the worst / but it’s mine and I’m feeling it now” in the latter.

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Fallon saves some true songwriting gems for the second half of ‘Painkillers’, including the deftly constructed Americana track ‘Long Drives’. The gentle wail of pedal steel is heard here, along with banjo and gospel-style organ, and Fallon matches traditional gospel harmonies with suitably evocative lyrics, juxtaposing “we tasted a kiss that was sent from the Lord” with “I keep a letter you wrote before the devil came in the picture.” The lyrics in this song’s final verse are among some of Fallon’s best as he muses “last night I remembered being 17 / I met a girl with a taste for the world and whisky and rites of spring”. He invokes the name Janey as his female subject here, matching a moniker used in similar songs by both Bruce Springsteen and, more recently, Foy Vance.

Standout track ‘Honey Magnolia’ is set up by a gentle piano introduction ahead of bittersweet chorus lines delivered from the viewpoint of a female protagonist: “…I’ll call when I wanna, call you Honey Magnolia / I’ll be the one to let you know when the sweet taste is gone”. The slight lyric change in the song’s final chorus becomes heartbreakingly poignant over a gently wailing guitar melody. The down-and-dirty ‘Mojo Hand’ leads into final track ‘Open All Night’, which despite its lyrical reference to Don Henley’s slick 80’s pop track ‘Boys of Summer’ is itself organic alt-country, with all the heart-on-sleeve grit and introspective folk temperament that Fallon could never get away with in his previous work with the Gaslight Anthem.

After the heavier rock of the Gaslight Anthem and the darker, more groove-based sound of previous duo project the Horrible Crowes, ’Painkillers’ represents a third iteration of Brian Fallon as a songwriter. While much of his thematic material is the same as we’ve heard from him in the past, the musical context on ‘Painkillers’ is quite different. Somewhat unfortunately, the raw folk rock style on this album exposes both Fallon’s strength as a songwriter and his weaknesses as a singer. Because his overly aggressive vocals are pushed to the forefront of the audio mix on this recording, the songs lose the magnetic emotional quality that the charismatic Fallon brings to their live versions. Still, this is a cohesive collection of bittersweet, radio-friendly anthems that will likely appeal to Fallon’s ever-broadening fan base.

6.5/10

‘Painkillers’ is due for release this Friday, the 11th of March, on Virgin EMI (UK) and Island Records (North America). Update 12 March 2016: In case you missed it, Fallon has been announced as a late addition to the Auditorium Shores lineup at SXSW 2016 on Thursday night. The show, which will be free to all, will include Fallon at 6 PM. For more information on the evening’s lineup that includes headliner Ray LaMontagne, visit this link.

Fallon is currently in the midst of a full North American tour. He has also announced a list of April tour dates in the UK, which are right back this way. All of TGTF’s previous coverage of Brian Fallon can be found by clicking here.

 

(SXSW 2016 flavoured!) Live Review: Brian Fallon and The Crowes with Jonny Two Bags at The Rock, Tucson, AZ – 11th February 2016

 
By on Tuesday, 16th February 2016 at 2:00 pm
 

The Rock in downtown Tucson is a gruff and gritty dive bar, known mostly for its willingness to host heavier rock bands than other Tucson music venues. Many of the bands on the docket are underground metal bands or local hard rock groups, but last Thursday night The Rock’s stage was graced by two nationally-known acts, though each was appearing in a new and novel guise. Brian Fallon, playing here with backing band The Crowes, is best known as frontman for New Jersey rock band The Gaslight Anthem, while his support act for the evening, Jonny Two Bags, is the current guitarist for Southern California punk band Social Distortion.

Relight

Having co-written tracks with Social Distortion frontman Mike Ness on two of that band’s albums, Jonny Two Bags (aka Jonny Wickersham) was no stranger to songwriting before he embarked on writing a solo album. But his own debut release, 2014’s ‘Salvation Town’ has an unexpectedly low-key “pub rock” feel to it, as described here by Rolling Stone. I had never heard of Jonny Two Bags before Thursday night, and I was only familiar with Social Distortion in passing. Despite my personal lack of knowledge, Wickersham clearly had a fair few longtime fans in attendance at The Rock. Several punters cheered and called out song titles, all of which were unfamiliar to me, but Wickersham seemed genuinely pleased with the attention and with the warm response his solo songs received from the Tucson crowd.

Wickersham played through most of ‘Salvation Town’ in his 45-minute set, opening with the album’s first single ‘One Foot in the Gutter’ (streaming just below) and closing with the surprisingly infectious ‘Hope Dies Hard’. ‘Ghosts’ and ‘Forlorn Walls’ were popular choices among the crowd, but the song that most captivated my attention was a cover of Elvis Costello’s ‘Lip Service’, which Wickersham cleverly disguised by crediting it to Costello’s given name, Declan McManus. (As an interesting sidebar, Costello’s drummer, Pete Thomas, also played on ‘Salvation Town’.) Well played, Jonny Two Bags, both in the banter and in the music.

Brian Fallon and The Crowes made their appearance on stage around 9:30 PM, with the lineup including Gaslight Anthem member Alex Rosamilia on keyboards and Fallon’s Horrible Crowes side-project partner Ian Perkins on guitar. The band played an hour-long set that shifted focus between Fallon’s new solo album ‘Painkillers’ and the Horrible Crowes’ 2011 album ‘Elsie’. The crowd appeared remarkably familiar with the new songs from ‘Painkillers’, starting right away with opening number ‘Red Lights’, especially considering that the album isn’t due for official release until mid-March. As for the Horrible Crowes numbers, Fallon mentioned early in the show that the band had been “waiting a long time to play some of these songs again”, and the crowd were evidently equally eager to hear them. All around me, voices sang along with every chorus in the set list and diehard fans alternated between dancing and ecstatically recording video on their smartphones.

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Fallon appeared relaxed and at ease on the stage, his boyish smile and improvisatory banter bringing a sense of energy and spontaneity to the songs, while the sheer number of guitars in the live arrangement rounded out the sound nicely. His between-the-songs monologue included a lengthy fable of acoustic guitarist Jared Hart’s proclivity for winning large sums of money playing dice along the Boardwalk. Aside from his dice-wielding talents, Hart displayed a lovely singing voice when he joined in on harmony vocals, as did bassist Catherine Popper (Molly and the Zombies, Ryan Adams and the Cardinals).
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Fallon’s mid-set acoustic break featured those sweet harmonies on ‘Painkillers’ tracks ‘Honey Magnolia’ and ‘Steve McQueen’. His obligatory Springsteen cover came in the form of ‘Atlantic City’, which is a personal favourite of mine and which Fallon performed with an admirable level of restraint, capturing the intimacy and urgency of the original. With their audience’s spirits lifted by that familiar tune, the band then broke into another popular choice, the rousing recent single ‘A Wonderful Life’. From that point forward, Fallon and company were in high gear. They raced through ‘Open All Night’ and ended the show with three Horrible Crowes tunes, finishing the night on a satisfying note if not a truly exhilarating one with ‘Behold the Hurricane’.

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Brian Fallon and The Crowes’ set list, 11th February 2016

Brian Fallon’s debut solo album ‘Painkillers’ is due out on the 11th of March on Virgin EMI in the UK and on Island Records in America. Fallon will play a run of live dates in the UK this spring following his scheduled appearance at SXSW 2016; you can find a listing of those dates right here. Our collection of current coverage on Brian Fallon is this way, and our previous coverage of The Gaslight Anthem can be found here.

 

Single Review: Brian Fallon – A Wonderful Life

 
By on Monday, 21st December 2015 at 12:00 pm
 

American rock band the Gaslight Anthem have been on “indefinite hiatus” since the end of their European tour in August, but frontman Brian Fallon has wasted no time getting started on his new project, a solo album titled ‘Painkillers’. Produced by industry veteran Butch Walker, who has also recently worked with Frank Turner and Ryan Adams, ‘Painkillers’ is due out next spring, just ahead of Fallon’s scheduled appearance at SXSW 2016. Fallon has recently unveiled the album’s first single ‘A Wonderful Life’, along with a list of live dates in support of the album, including a run of UK shows next April. (You can view all the dates here.)

‘A Wonderful Life’ is precisely the Springsteen-type rock anthem you might expect from Jersey boy Fallon (and coincidentally timed near the Boss’ new box set release), with heavy drums and a jangling piano underneath the guitars and the gritty vocal delivery. It’s undeniably catchy, and Brian Fallon’s lyrics are almost universally evocative, like the line “most of my sins were born in a kiss on a night like this”.

The warm tone of the acoustic guitar behind the verses gives the song a slightly more intimate folk rock feeling than much of the Gaslight Anthem’s output, while the backing vocals lend a hint of gospel. The song might not be earth-shattering in terms of stylistic originality, but if you’re looking for something uplifting to pull you out of a rut, ‘A Wonderful Life’ isn’t a bad place to start. Have a listen for yourself just below.

7/10

[youtube]https://youtu.be/W9f5PrL7uvA[/youtube]

Brian Fallon’s solo album ‘Painkillers’ is due for release on the 11th of March 2016 via Virgin EMI in the UK and Island Records in North America. You can find a complete listing of his upcoming live shows on his official Facebook page. Our previous coverage of Fallon’s band the Gaslight Anthem is right back here.

 
 
 

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

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