Ten years ago, Brian Fallon was the frontman for one of the best modern rock bands in America. Over the course of five LPs, The Gaslight Anthem spun earnest, story-driven tales of youth and romanticism. Their songs were indeed anthems, flourishing in the dingiest of dive bars alongside contemporaries like The Menzingers or The Wonder Years, as well as on the world’s largest festival stages with hometown hero and musical inspiration Bruce Springsteen.
But after The Gaslight Anthem announced an indefinite hiatus in 2015, Fallon explored all kinds of other musical outlets. The Horrible Crows, a pensive rock duo formed with Ian Perkins, released its only album, Elsie, in 2011. Molly and The Zombies, a just-for-fun live project that began in 2013, showcased Fallon’s roots leanings. In 2016, he released his debut solo album, Painkillers, with Sleepwalkers coming in 2018. Each of these efforts felt incomplete and transitionary, though, attempting to balance previous successes with new directions.
Local Honey, however, represents Fallon’s most complete work since Gaslight. Named for the hand-painted signs he sees on the side of the road near his New Jersey home, Local Honey takes a different musical approach than any of Fallon’s previous work. Rich with piano, piano steel, and almost all acoustic guitars — many of which he played himself after taking lessons on to improve his skills — the eight-song album sounds as much indebted to folk and country singers as to bedroom indie rock.
Sometimes, Fallon addresses these American roots legacies head on, like in “Vincent,” in which he tells a story from another perspective: “My name is Jolene, but I hate that song.” But usually, they’re much more subtle — the quiet steel weeping in opening “When You’re Ready” or the chordal fingerpicking of “Horses.” In fact, he told producer Peter Katis (The National, The Lone Bellow, Frightened Rabbit) that the sound on Emmylou Harris’ Wrecking Ball and Bob Dylan’s Time Out of Mind were inspirations.
Fallon also slowed down the tempo for many tracks, stripping away instruments from demos until both the sonic and mental noise dissolved. That new clarity also emerges in his storytelling, as age, family, fears, and responsibilities inform Local Honey. Fallon sings about his two kids on tracks like the sweet ballad “You Have Stolen My Heart” instead of the storybook characters immortalized in rock and roll’s great canon. “21 Days,” a song cocooned in a breakup narrative, really divulges the challenges of breaking a destructive habit like smoking.
When Fallon sings, especially when he belts on tracks like “21 Days” and “I Don’t Mind (If I’m With You),” his voice conveys both strength and a specific raggedness earned from more than a decade arduous punk-rock touring. But most importantly, listeners can hear his patience, growth, and acceptance like never before.