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With their recent transition to major label Mercury Records in late 2011, fans of The Gaslight Anthem were left wondering if the New Brunswick natives would sacrifice their signature sound or still be able pull off another album riddled with Springsteen-infused punk.
Needless to say, Gaslight has indeed done it again. Handwritten, the follow-up to the 2010 release American Slang, is very possibly the band’s best record to date. Following a short break from Gaslight in early 2011, Handwritten comes inspired by The Horrible Crowes, a side project featuring lead singer and guitarist Brian Fallon and his guitar tech, Ian Perkins, showing a little bit of their softer side. With all the passion and soul of Elsie, The Horrible Crowes debut, and the old school rock and roll that has always embodied The Gaslight Anthem, the band certainly hasn’t lost their edge. With the band’s iconic retro feel harkening back to the days of smoky jazz clubs and black and white film stars, Handwritten also delves back into a little more of the band’s Jersey punk roots.
Released as the album’s first single in April, “45” leads off the album with a kick that leaves fans drooling for more and skeptics pleasantly surprised. With growling vocals from Fallon and a collection of punky percussion and speedy guitar licks, this song draws inspiration from the days of “Sink or Swim”. “I can’t move on and I can’t stay the same and all my friends say, heyyy turn the record over… I’ll see you on the flip side,” he sings, making a signature reference to the older times in music and the band’s affinity for vinyl.
“Mullholland Drive” is a love song with an Americana sound and a lot of bluesy lyrics. “I would just die if you ever took your love away,” croons Fallon amidst a beautiful cacophony of percussion and electric guitars. It’s one of multiple tracks that feature amazingly gritty guitar solos, a testament to the band’s return to their true rock and roll roots.
A live bootleg version of the band’s track “Biloxi Parish” surfaced in March of 2011, recorded during a performance in Sydney, Australia. Hands down an amazing track even as a rough cut, “Biloxi Parish” is an impossible song to improve, and yet somehow with the re-record, this track has managed to get even more impressive. Starting off with a slow thumping beat and a collision of guitar and percussion, “Biloxi Parish” puts a rock and roll spin on a very expressive and blues-inspired track. The song winds into a whirlwind addition of piercing electric guitar solos and circles back to the thumping opening rhythm that fades, ringing out with the last note.
“Keepsake” is an emblazoned slow song full of chugging guitar riffs accented with harmonica to feature the soulful edge the band perfected on The ’59 Sound. Fallon’s voice croons with sorrowful fervor through a mix of simple percussion, electric guitar, and curiously chosen touches of harmonica and tambourine. Gravelly vocals that plead for the listener’s sympathy, accompanied by a begging guitar, make this song the right blend of mournful passion.
Another album that seems more at home when played from a stack of wax, The Gaslight Anthem take their vintage-inspired sound and give it a good kick in the butt in the name of rock and roll. An album without any bad tracks and an addictive listen, Gaslight has proved that even with the jump to a major label, they will not be putting out any bad records any time soon. Handwritten is set to drop on July 24th and the band is currently with the record, making a pit stop at The Middle East on Sunday, July 22nd.