From The Gaslight Anthem‘s frontman, Brian Fallon (a New Jersey rock musician with one helluva voice) and collaborator Ian Perkins comes a new addition to the world of music—The Horrible Crowes. Crowes was formed to provide a space where Fallon could work on material more meditative in tone and stray from the trademark sound of (the underappreciated) Gaslight. Fallon, himself, described the new band as, “if Tom Waits, the National, the Afghan Whigs, Bon Iver, and Nick Cave made a band with Percy Sledge that’d be called The Horrible Crowes.”
Now, that may be a lot of musical influences to take in, but it is a pretty on-point description of the final product. The band’s debut album, Elsie, was released on September 6th by SideOneDummy, following an exclusive advanced streaming of the album on RollingStone.com.
For those of you familiar with the work of The Gaslight Anthem, you’ll certainly be pleased. The raw material isn’t too far removed from what Gaslight would otherwise put out; it certainly has Fallon written all over it. But that is the album’s strength, not its weakness: sometimes artists become too self-indulgent with their side projects or take a misguided turn into “experimental” territory that comes off as less of an admirable move to push the envelope and more of a too-big-for-their-britches stunt. Here, in reliable form, Fallon stays true to his musical style and what he does best: crafting songs that are cinematic in scope, full of grim-but-real poetry, and supporting them with a strong musical backbone often lacking in so-called “introspective” material.
Each song is well-served by Fallon’s hallmark gravelly voice, which more than fills up the emotional space of each character and rips open the emotional heart of each song. The songs on Elsie are certainly more intimate and lack the train-barrelling-down-the-tracks drive that has become a signature sound of The Gaslight Anthem.
That is not to say that the introspection offered here comes at the sacrifice of urgency. Even in the quietest of tracks here, Crowes imbue their music with soulful intent; there is a reason these songs are being sung, that these stories are being told now. Fallon has proven that he understands, deep in his bones, what one of his idols and major musical influences, Bruce Springsteen, once articulated as being the cornerstone of rock ‘n’ roll:
You need that ever-present now. That is part of grabbing life by the horns …But there’s also a forward energy. That it’s always for tomorrow…Because what I see isn’t here now. It doesn’t exist now. But I have some sort of faith that it can exist. – Bruce Springsteen while appearing on Elvis Costello‘s show, Spectacle
On Elsie, the drama is more contained, none more beautifully so than on the pensive “Sugar” and “Black Betty & the Moon“. There are, unavoidably, a few instances where one wonders what a Gaslight treatment of the same song would sound like, especially in the case of “Behold the Hurricane“. Again, such a comparison is unavoidable.
It’s worth mentioning that a number of the songs from the album linger on the tongue. Fallon and Perkins have given the songs and notes room to breathe before jumping on to the next track. It makes for a satisfying listening experience, while highlighting the band’s attention to producing an album to be viewed as a complete work of art, rather than a compilation of disconnected tracks.
In short, Elsie is the kind of music you want to have playing while lingering over beer and serious conversation with an old friend or lover. It’s not stadium-style rock with a larger than life sound, yet it has some serious conviction behind it.