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Most of US know Brian Fallon as the front man for the Gaslight Anthem, an act who started out in Jersey basements and slowly built their way up to headlining New York's Radio City Music Hall. Despite the success Fallon has had with his main band he's always loved decidedly less rocking acts such as the Afghan Whigs and Tom Waits. The Horrible Crowes - his new side-project alongside longtime friend Ian Perkins - is his lounge-friendly tip of the hat to the acts who have shaped another side of his musical vision. ELSIE is also the most personal release of Fallons career and while the Gaslight Anthems music is loaded with characters and iconography, this album sees Fallon stripping back the metaphors to put it all on the line. While drug addictions, ex-girlfriends and religion all creep their way into these songs, ELSIE isn't a linear album as much as it is a catalog of experiences that are conveyed in a way that was equally as cathartic for Fallon to create as it will inevitably be for his listeners to hear.
At Reading Festival last year, Gaslight Anthem frontman Brian Fallon introduced to the crowd to a guy who had joined them on guitar for a few songs. "This gentleman right here is named Ian Perkins," he told the thousands of people in the crowd. "People always ask, 'Is that your roadie?' No. He's more than that. He's our inspiration. He's our wings beneath our wings." It wasn't a point that needed proving, but by teaming up with Perkins to form The Horrible Crowes, Fallon has done just that, cementing the strength of their personal and professional relationship with these 12 stirring, searching, soulful songs.
What Elsie isn't is a Brian Fallon solo album. Neither is it a Gaslight Anthem record. Certainly, Fallon's distinctive vocals - heartfelt and bruised, ragged and raspy - will recall the band that, in the last couple of years, has made his name. But really, these songs define themselves as the product of two fertile, fabulous minds.
Opener Last Rites is a soft, sad and short introduction to the album. Underpinned by an elegiac piano line similar to that on the beautiful Eels song Spunky, it sets the sombre mood of what's to follow. An album for dark, stormy nights when you want to shut yourself away from the world, Sugar, Cherry Blossoms and Ladykiller are similarly sultry and wistful, full of poignant regret and what ifs - contemplations and bittersweet celebrations of all the people you've loved and lost.
It's not all mournful ruminations, though. Mary Ann is a rough, gruff, bluesy stomp that channels (and references) Tom Waits; Behold the Hurricane a chugging bundle of trembling nerves perpetually on the verge of exploding; and Go Tell Everyone is a raucous, visceral growl of a song with a majestic, exuberant chorus, equalled only by the finger-clicking soulful riff of I Witnessed a Crime.
But then, for the last three songs, the desolation and desperation returns, Black Betty & The Moon and Blood Loss cranking up the poetic romanticism and sense of despair before the devastating pathos of final song I Believe Jesus Brought Us Together. A lilting, atmospheric ode to love, life and death, it drops to its knees with wounded grace as it tries to makes sense of a world gone wrong through the hope that things can and will get better. It's a beautiful end to a touching, tragic album.
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