What a busy year 2018 is turning out to be for Brian Fallon, who is touring the world through May in support of his sophomore solo album, “Sleepwalkers,” and then again with a summer reunion of New Brunswick-originated The Gaslight Anthem.
What I love most about Brian Fallon is that, along with his New Brunswick-originated band, The Gaslight Anthem, as well as Trenton-based The Cryptkeeper Five and Bayonne-based The Scandals, he is an architect of today’s Jersey Sound. The cross between the edgy anthems of The Clash and rootsy lyricism of Bruce Springsteen also now is promulgated by East Brunswick-based Bobby Mahoney and the Seventh Son and Asbury Park-based The Vansaders. Those five bands do Jersey proud with a sound that also helps make Fallon’s second solo LP, “Sleepwalkers,” more vibrant and dynamic than the folk-poppy introspection of his 2016 solo debut, “Painkillers.”
An excellent example of the Clash-fueled dynamics is “Little Nightmares,” which waxes punk philosophic: “Don’t you know there’s an ocean of hope, underneath the grey sky where you’re dreaming?” Another tasty track, the beautiful, soulful “Watson,” is the 12-song “Sleepwalkers” most dynamic, as it emotionally romps through London with a reference to Elvis Costello’s “Watching the Detectives” and great lyrics about much-needed umbrellas.
It makes sense that “Sleepwalkers” sounds more like The Gaslight Anthem because it was produced by Ted Hutt, whose credits read like a who’s who of modern-day punk. They include Gaslight’s 2008 breakthrough, “The ’59 Sound;” their 2010 follow-up, “American Slang;” Hutt’s former band, Floggy Molly; the similar Celtic-sounding Dropkick Murphys; Asbury Park’s The Bouncing Souls, and Lucero, a popular punk band from Memphis who also sound like a cross between The Clash and Springsteen.
Given Hutt’s work with Flogging Molly, Dropkick Murphys and the proudly Irish Fallon, it stands to reason that “Sleepwalkers” has a Celtic tinge to such tracks as the mandolin-driven country-soul ballad, “Proof of Life,” also one of a couple fun references to Motown. And then there’s the Celtic flavor of the closing “See You on the Other Side,” a rousingly choral ballad about a couple’s love, faith and hope that is so strong, they know it’s eternal.
Whereas “Proof of Life” lyrically references The Supremes’ “You Keep Me Hangin’ on,” exciting opener “If Your Prayers Don’t Get to Heaven” musically references their Motown classic “You Can’t Hurry Love,” as well as lyrically, Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready,” and Springsteen’s Mayfield/Woody Guthrie-inspired “Land of Hopes and Dreams.” The results make for an uplifting albeit surprisingly slickly produced introduction to the LP.
Despite the grit of Fallon’s voice and some of his best lyrics, slick production mars a few otherwise excellent tracks. They include “Forget Me Not,” an odd James Joyce-like love song Fallon wrote for his wife, Stacy, from the perspective of his death, and “Come Wander with Me,” a reggae-tinged reflection on being raised at the Jersey Shore by a single mom as part of hard-knocks advice to a lad named Rudy (perhaps a Slackers reference).
Fortunately, another dynamic track, “Etta James,” a Springsteenesque power ballad inspired by the R&B great who is best known for her classics “At Last” and “Tell Mama,” has so many strong elements, especially lyrics, that it overcomes studio slickness to resonate as an anthem about how music, as well as true love, can seem like salvation. These lines will hit home with a lot of once reckless rockers: “And all we wanted was absolutely everything. Like foolish and hungry young lions. I was lost and alone, a million light years from home. And it was nobody’s fault but mine.”
“Sleepwalkers” has been marketed as inspired by The Who’s 1960s maximum R&B sound, but there’s only a slight nod to The Who (“The Kids Are Alright”), as well as The Rolling Stones, on the Hutt co-written “Her Majesty’s Service.” Much more present are a slew of ’60s soul references, which also include a nod on the horn-driven title track to mutual Springsteen influences Gary “U.S.” Bonds and Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels. Those horns, by the way, are expertly provided by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, whose hometown of New Orleans served as the setting for the recording of “Sleepwalkers” at The Parlor Recording Studio.
Throughout the LP, a great studio band consists of Ian Perkins, guitarist of the Fallon side project, The Horrible Crowes; Berklee-schooled session bassist Nick Salisbury, and Social Distortion drummer David Hidalgo Jr., son of Los Lobos’ co-founding vocalist-guitarist. But it’s Fallon who makes the strongest musical contribution to “Sleepwalkers” with his soulful organ flourishes on many of the tracks. They include “My Name Is the Night (Color Me Black”), an E Street Band-like march complete with a Mighty Max beat and a Miami Steve-like call and response, and “Neptune,” a reflection on youthful idealism found in rock ‘n’ roll dreams, as well as Ferris wheels.
Both those tracks also offer some of the record’s best lyrics. On “My Name Is the Night,” Fallon growls, “With your your sweet, naïve kiss, I used to be the same until I let the darkness in. And it cost me nothing baby, no, nothing more than this. Nothing more than this useless heart in my chest,” and then at the end, “And the quiet to me’s such an ominous sound. Said my name is the night time now. Yes, the quiet to me is such an ominous sound. Said my name is the night, honey.” Then he whispers to a close, “Color me black.”
On “Neptune,” Fallon laments in the melancholy final verse: “She said, ‘Tonight my love, I declare this war for you have fallen from grace with me,’ while Neptune rolled out a carpet made of gold for the mermaids he drowned in his sea.” The dynamic track then lilts into a beautiful Fallon keyboard part before it slams into the closing chorus.
Also throughout “Sleepwalkers,” Fallon focuses on the thrill of fireworks, both in the sky and the heart, as well as heaven on earth and in the afterlife, which explains why the first thank you on the record is to Jesus. If Fallon’s faith has made it difficult for him to run within the fallen circles of The Gaslight Anthem’s many punk fans, he seems to have reconciled that because he will reunite with the band on June 2 at the Governor’s Ball Music Festival on New York City’s Randall’s Island. After that show, The Gaslight Anthem will announce Jersey additions to their world tour that will feature “The ’59 Sound” performed in its entirety in celebration of its 10th anniversary. Right now, Fallon is overseas at the start of a world solo tour, the area dates of which include April 27 at Union Transfer in Philadelphia, April 29 at Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, and May 2 at Brooklyn Street in Brooklyn.
Bob Makin is the reporter for www.MyCentralJersey.com/entertainment and a former managing editor of The Aquarian Weekly, which launched this column in 1988. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. And like Makin Waves at www.facebook.com/makinwavescolumn.