Published Mar 25, 2020Brian Fallon earned a reputation for fast-paced heartland rock songs with the Gaslight Anthem, but he'd always slip in one or two impassioned, folksy ballads that gave the band's upbeat albums their sensitive, delicate centre. Songs like "Here's Looking at You, Kid" from The '59 Sound, or "We Did It When We Were Young" from American Slang, or "Mae" from Handwritten — these were standouts because they tugged at the heartstrings and occasionally reached for the rafters without being too sappy about it. But they were always the outliers.
Since launching his solo career in 2016 with the solid Painkillers and then following it up with the not-quite-convincing Sleepwalkers, Fallon has pursued a more old-timey rock'n'roll sound inspired by the likes of Tom Petty and the Jam, but with roughly the same format as always.
Now, he's emerged with an album of purely slow-burn Americana, embracing the scenic route rather than the fast lane. Local Honey puts the greatest distance between Fallon's rock star days with the Gaslight Anthem and his present life as a 40-year-old family man. By loosening his grip on rock'n'roll, he's made his most true, bare and honest record in many years.
The very first line of the album is: "In this life there will be trouble / but you shall overcome"; that opening song, "When You're Ready," is a tender ode to his two children, but it also works to establish a sense of trust and fatherly comfort between Fallon and his listeners. There's a sense of well-earned intimacy throughout Local Honey, with songs that speak plainly and from the heart about deepening relationships and the life-sustaining love that comes from them. This record is warm, instantly inviting and crackling with life.
"Hard Feelings" is a tender, Mark Knopfler-inspired bit of the heartland that uses Fallon's gift for old-time imagery to capture the joys and pains of love and the complicated nature of heartbreak. "I Don't Mind (If I'm With You)" is a smouldering ballad that calls to mind the excellent Get Hurt outtake "Have Mercy." "Vincent" is a tragic portrait of an abusive relationship, while "Horses" is a dreamy, upbeat tune about setting yourself free. It's especially easy to lose yourself in the rapturous "21 Days," a song about the struggle of addiction that's as rewarding musically as it is narratively. "You Have Stolen My Heart" is what Fallon calls his first direct attempt at an unabashed love song, and it's a wonderful, tender closer that carefully avoids the sap trap.
There is a faint sense of sadness that underpins Local Honey. What it does is remind you how good it feels to move past it — not to ignore it or defeat it, but to let it have its moment. This is music that hugs you like a weighted blanket, offering comfort in scary times. (Thirty Tigers)