With the Gaslight Anthem on hiatus, frontman Brian Fallon suddenly found himself with plenty of time on his hands. He decided to use it wisely and headed for the studio with producer Butch Walker and a handful of friends to record what would become his first solo album. It’s called “Painkillers” and reminds me of why I fell in love with the Gaslight Anthem back when they released “The ’59 Sound”.
Not that this is an exercise in repetition. These songs linger somewhere between old-fashioned American rock ‘n roll and alt-country and reek of love and the heartbreak that inevitably follows and of hope as well as despair. It’s a sound you could already pick up on in the Gaslight Anthem’s songs, but it takes center stage here. And while Fallon might not be the greatest singer ever, his gravelly voice is perfectly suited to carry out the sense of longing and nostalgia he is trying to convey.
It’s hard to find an article about Fallon that doesn’t at some point mention Bruce Springsteen. And yeah, opening track “A Wonderful Life” and “Rosemary” are the kind of songs where it’s not hard to pick up on the Boss’ influence. But you could just as easily name-drop Tom Petty or Bob Dylan. He is not ripping them off though, he just knows how to pick his role models.
The reflective “Among Other Foolish Things” and the melancholy “Steve McQueen” are just a pleasure to listen to and some of the best songs Fallon has written so far. Two more album highlights come in the form of “Smoke” and “Red Lights”, both of which have been recovered from Molly and the Zombies, one of Fallon’s other projects. And the songs just keep on coming… the plaintive country shuffle of “Long Drives” is another winner and leads into the absolutely stunning “Honey Magnolia”, one of the album’s most fragile songs with an arrangement that shows that less really can be more.
I read somewhere that Fallon was hesitant about putting an album out there with his name on it. He worried over nothing, because “Painkillers” is just a soothing as its title suggests.