On his third solo album, we catch up with a Brian Fallon more mature and comfortable in himself than we’ve ever known. Long gone are the days of The Gaslight Anthem’s punk rock. Fallon has swapped old white Lincolns for a family saloon; nostalgia for an appreciation of the present. Through Local Honey, we see it’s a trade he wears well.
The album opens with a letter to his daughter, giving us a glimpse into Fallon as a father. When You're Ready is tender and forgiving, but honest. He offers his daughter advice on life and love, but pulls us back to the present with the instantly disarming innocence of the line, “I’m watching you just colour with your brand new pyjamas on”. He is comfortable in his new role and doesn’t need to hide behind metaphor to bare his feelings.
Writing from the perspective of the female in a relationship is something Fallon has done before, but in Vincent, he charts the course of an abusive relationship. References to his character Jolene’s “Maybelline mask” and her loaded but vague warning, “After tonight, I won't be home for a while,” are powerful. Like Tom Waits, Fallon creates his character and their world with such skill that we are transported, invested in their story despite being given little more than hints to go on. Later on Hard Feelings the line, “It’s hard when you’re hurt to let someone wreck you again,” is Fallon at his heart wrenching best and in 21 Days he makes giving up smoking sound like a crushing but amicable breakup.
Lyrically, Local Honey is some of Fallon’s best writing. He covers new themes but with the same voice, we’ve heard before. Musically though, there’s more of a departure from his previous work. It’s been a gradual progression as Painkillers and then Sleepwalkers had fewer of those upbeat guitar-driven tracks he made his name with. Local Honey might lack the immediate satisfaction of a four-chord stomper but more than makes up for it with a depth in production. With Peter Katis, who has worked previously with The National and Death Cab For Cutie, Fallon has incorporated programming and synths in a way we haven’t heard him do before. It’s the biggest shift in his sound since 2011’s Elsie.
Fallon’s fingerpicking guitar lessons are bearing ever more fruit and in Horses and 21 Days, the acoustic guitar rings clear alongside the electronic instrumentation. Where on previous records these songs might have been a solo guitar from start to finish, the gently pulsing synths and enhanced percussion sit perfectly with the pacing of the songs. Where these are used it’s generally a light-touch approach and complements Fallon’s writing rather than ever becoming overbearing. The beautifully textured ending to Horses is one of the standout examples of this. It’s a brave move and gives something of a new life to Fallon’s familiar writing style.
As his guitar and piano playing has improved, so too has his voice. Where we might have heard him stretching to hit notes in the past, the vocals throughout Local Honey are delivered with confidence and accuracy. From the assured delivery of the album’s opening lines to You Have Stolen My Heart’s falsetto middle-eight, Fallon’s warmth and passion make Local Honey feel like falling back into step with an old friend.
There are moments that are almost too familiar though, most notably the opening riff of I Don’t Mind (If I’m With You) being a note for note replica of the Gaslight Anthem b-side She Loves You. Elsewhere there are phrasings and melodies that, for those aware of Fallon’s previous output, will trigger sparks of recognition, like the ghost of an older song surfacing through the notes. These are a reminder that while Fallon’s writing is more experienced and his production is more adventurous, his fundamental songwriting approach hasn’t changed. For new listeners, of course, this won’t be an issue; for Gaslight Anthem fans they might become easter egg moments to discover and discuss in forums. Maybe the nostalgia is still just visible in the rearview…
While Painkillers and Sleepwalkers retained much of The Gaslight Anthem’s signature sound, Local Honey feels more like a follow on to Fallon’s Horrible Crowes album, Elsie, and as such is a more clean break from the weight a previous project can be for a solo artist trying to establish themselves.
If The 59 Sound was a perfect snapshot of Brian Fallon in his angsty, troubled twenties, Local Honey is the musical mirror of the same man grown, experienced and comfortable in life.