After two solo albums on Island Records, Gaslight Anthem front man Brian Fallon has opted to drop his latest LP, “Local Honey,” on his own Lesser Known Records. For the Point Pleasant-based, Red Bank-raised singer-songwriter, the results are as sweet as they are cathartic. A gorgeously packaged collection, the eight servings of “Local Honey” once again recall Brian’s greatest influence: fellow Jersey Shore rocker Bruce Springsteen. But rather than emulate the youthful zeal of the Boss’ iconic ’70s catalog, Brian sounds like the Bruce of today: world-weary and wise.
I don’t know if the youngest of Gaslight Anthem’s punk-adoring fans will appreciate it, but Fallon’s deeply personal glimpse into his everyday world reveals universal truths, hard-earned insights and unflinching honesty. Then again, we’ve all had to grow immensely lately, so maybe they will.
Released at a time of global upheaval, the mellow, sparse, often depressing outing -- surprisingly sparingly produced by Grammy winner Peter Katis (The National, Death Cab for Cutie, Interpol) -- offers the kind of catharsis the blues provided World War II and soul music sounded throughout the civil rights movement to those who could relate either by race or open-mindedness. The collection opens with “When You’re Ready,” a salute to fatherhood, specifically in honor of Brian’s 7-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter.
Next up is one of the best of the eight tracks, “21 Days,” a soulful chronicle of kicking nicotine guised as a breakup song.
The genuine breakup song, “Vincent,” is a Springsteen-like short story set in Texas about a woman named Jolene who hates the famous Dolly Parton song that shares her name and misses her long-lost boyfriend, whose name inspired the title of the track. “Hard Feelings” also chronicles heartache as a story song about a troubled pair of partners in crime trying to find refuge in New York City.
Brian balances some of the darkest elements of the album with three beautiful ballads that muse on how life’s hardship can pack less of a punch when you’re in the arms of a special person. While social distancing from everyone but themselves, otherwise happy couples will relate to “I Don’t Mind (If I’m With You),” “Lonely for You Only” and “You Have Stolen My Heart.” Harmonious parents of families quarantined together will feel the same about the album’s many references to those bonds.
The best track on “Local Honey” is the latest single, “Horses,” which equates the beauty and strength of the beloved animal with the kind of faith and hope it takes make a relationship as strong as it is beautiful. I love this song because it also best expresses Brian’s faith in Jesus and family (he dedicates “Local Honey” to both). And the deeply Irish-rooted balladeer does so with a slight Celtic tinge. “Horses” was the Makin Waves Song of the Week.
Brian was supposed to be on tour right now with his band, the Howling Weather, that was to include a two-night stand at his hometown venue, the Count Basie Theatre, but the virus crisis nixed the remainder of the schedule. Hopefully, it will be made up soon … and safely.
Debra Devi is a singer-songwriter-guitarist from Jersey City who combines some of the best blues slide-guitar playing the great State of New Jersey’s rich and fertile music scene has to offer with a pop-rock sensibility. Imagine a cross between Bonnie Raitt, Joan Jett and Pat Benatar.
On her latest EP, “A Zillion Stars Overhead,” the best examples of that guitar work are a fascinating and impressive reworking of Neil Young’s “The Needle and the Damage Done” and an exotically tuned original instrumental, “Canna Indica,” which closes the five-song collection. The slide work on both offers a psychedelic flare, kind of like David Gilmour.
The rest of the EP features two other originals. “Stay” builds with layered guitars reminiscent of The Cult’s “She Sells Sanctuary” atop a rhythmic foundation rooted in Abba disco beats. Meanwhile, “When It Comes Down” is presented twice, including a near 10-minute Gov’t Mule-like jam. On all three tracks, Devi’s vocals aren’t as strong as on “Damage Done,” and both songs are more poppy in presentation, even the long jam. But the lyric video for the extended “When It Comes Down” is a trippy blast, especially during the best and most artistic parts of the song.
Debra’s hot band features Gov’t Mule bassist Jorgen Carlsson and Amfibian drummer John Hummel, who add immensely to “A Zillion Stars.” Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, they won’t be playing out anytime soon, but Debra has been regularly performing solo acoustic virtual concerts from her living room on Facebook.
I sometimes wonder what ’90s indie rockers Dinosaur Jr. would think of New Brunswick grunge veterans Dinosaur Eyelids. Would they like their fusion of pop, punk and heavy noise? Would they think sometimes they are a bit to derivative for their own good?
They might think both of the Lids’ latest LP, “Sticker Shock,” which kicks off with what may be one of the band’s best songs, “Shake,” an exciting rager that could make a dead man dance while making a stoner smile. “Shake” was the Makin Waves Song of the Week.
But from there, “Sticker Shock” doesn’t offer much in the way of originality. That doesn’t mean it isn’t good. It is. But it is with the band’s influences stickered all off their flannel sleeves. Overt nods to Nirvana, The Strokes, Nuggets and Neil Young make up the rest of the 11-song collection.
“Shake” may be their best song, but they’ve yet to top their best LP, 2014’s “Bypass to Nowhere.” That said, I congratulate this band on still rocking out six years later, as well as five years before that, which is an impressive feat in today’s fickle, fleeting world of indie rock.
The message of hope on South Jersey/Philly-based Gooch and the Motion’s sophomore LP, “Outside the Window,” comes at a time when hope is as rare to find as an toilet paper. And it’s not just the follow-up to the 2016 debut, “Comin’ Home,” that offers hope, but the story of Ryan “Gooch” Nelson as well.
Sixteen years ago, Gooch was paralyzed in a car accident, leaving him a quadriplegic, but just enough motion remains in his hands to play lap steel guitar and harmonica. On top of that, Gooch is a cancer survivor. Undeterred by his illness and injuries, he formed four years ago the Motion: bassist Adam Todaro, acoustic guitarist Josh Dubois, drummer Andy Meyer and electric guitarist Mike Pasquale. A dream since he was 12 to form a band, his provides the Motion that the rest of his extremities cannot.
But you’d never know listening to him. Gooch sings like the late, great Dr. John, plays lap steel like David Lindley and blues harp like G. Love in a mix of Americana music that blends blues with country, funk, soul, R&B and good ol’ rock ‘n’ roll.
“Outside the Window” opens with the swampadelic “Do You Feel,” a down ‘n’ dirty bayou-burning blast of roots that will revive fans of The Radiators. Next up is “When I’m Gone,” a pretty acoustic-oriented countryesque mid-tempo nugget that will appeal to fans of Dickey Betts, Hootie & the Blowfish and North Mississippi Allstars, who, like Gooch & the Motion, do a mighty fine cover of Muddy Waters’ “Rollin’ and Tumblin’.”
Which brings us to the Gooch original, “Roll of the Dice,” a fine slice of organ-driven Americana featuring Jim Cheadle, a veteran South Jersey musician who owns Swedesboro Music Studio. “Roll of the Dice” is a standout among the album’s 11 great tracks, as is “New Orleans,” a delicious funk ‘n’ grits in the tradition of Dr. John that also features tasty Allen Toussaint-like horns and Sonny Landrethesque slide playing.
“New Orleans” was the Makin Waves Song of the Week.
The album’s homage to roots music continues with “Leave the Guitar with Me,” a barn-burnin’ tongue-in-cheek country-blues dedicated to Gooch’s love of music and his balancing a lover who lately seems to love his music more than him. Other tasty servings of roots music include the blues-squawkin’, lyrically uplifting gospel treat of “Lead Me Glory” and “Roll It Up,” a country blues with a gang vocal dedicated to ganga. Stylistically in between those two tracks is “Walk Alone,” a catharsis related to Gooch’s dad’s battle with lung cancer. The healing, hopeful tune fuses gospel with reggae across the bridge that is Gooch’s super steel slide playing.
“Party Jam” is a funky interlude that also is fascinating because of Gooch’s playing. Robert Randolph fans will dig this all-too-brief track. Meanwhile, the album’s spiritual bend continues with the gospel blues of “Pray,” which uses hot blues harp, piano and female backing vocals to tell a tale of judgment and redemption, as well as the hypocrisy that often taints both.
Also outstanding is “Zodiac,” another Dr. John-like shot of voodoo made even radder by a guitar duel with North Mississippi Allstars’ Luther Dickinson, Gooch’s greatest guitar inspiration. The Little Feat-like “Up All Night” closes the cathartic collection with a trip around a Caribbean sun.
In these trying times, I am so happy to have been turned onto Gooch and the Motion by my longtime music media compadre Randy Alexander, his publicist. I since have discovered my favorite Gooch track, “Jersey Mudd,” a cross between Muddy Waters and Bruce Springsteen from the “Comin’ Home” debut. I can’t wait to get to see this band live! Then again at this point, I can’t wait to do anything outside the confines of my own property. When not taking the anger, sadness and frustration out chopping wood or kickboxing on a heavy bag, I’m glad and grateful I now have Gooch & the Motion to help me get through. I hope that you will too!