The main complaint with Brian Fallon’s work away from The Gaslight Anthem thus far has been how it’s never managed to escape the influence that his main band has set so deeply in stone. His side project The Horrible Crowes might have opted for a more soulful vibe overall, but it’s no surprise that Behold The Hurricane was pushed as the main track form that album when it was effectively a sonic overlay of The Gaslight Anthem’s work. As for his solo material, it’s always been frustrating to see how he’s effectively used them as a vehicle for what have felt like Gaslight Anthem castoffs; the sound might be a bit more stripped-back, but for an opportunity to show the more subtle shades of Fallon as an artist that mightn’t be viable in big, heartfelt arena-punk, the fact that both Painkillers and Sleepwalkers have basically gone without leaving a trace implies that opportunity hasn’t been grabbed as wholeheartedly as it could’ve been. And for a songwriter as brilliant and capable of true beauty as Fallon is, the fact that the upper echelon of that talent usually only materialises in spurts is phenomenally disappointing. That’s not to say the talent isn’t there, but in his solo material where he has greater freedom, sticking to his established formula almost beat for beat hasn’t worked that well so far.
That’s why it’s such a relief that Local Honey has turned out the way it has. The classicism and echoes of a very anachronistic brand of Americana are as prevalent as they always are in Fallon’s work, but now with an intimate, burnished presentation that’s the absolute perfect fit for something like this. Along with all the right avenues of folk and country that are slipped into like they’re the most natural thing in the world, Local Honey stands out because it actually feels like a solo album, and when Fallon can apply his talents with imagery and a beautiful sense of atmosphere across a full body of work, the results really are great and it’s so refreshing to see something like that finally take shape.
That’s especially true when a not-inconsiderable part of Fallon as an artist feels like it was just waiting to be given a stylistic palate where the opportunities to ease back into more languid, contemplative sides of rootsiness are so open. He’s always had a fantastic gravity in his voice when breaking it down into a more vulnerable burr, and keeping that as his main method of delivery here helps retain so much of that warmth. There are moments on a song like Vincent where the register is a bit too low and it can sound muffled, but the vast majority of Local Honey hits exactly the right notes for an album like this, whether that’s the gentler, more fatherly side of a song like When You’re Ready, or the swaying delicacy and light of tracks like I Don’t Mind (If I’m With You) and You Have Stolen My Heart.
There’s a similar sense of contentment offered within the writing as well, where Fallon’s application of more personal lyricism comes in a more mature, almost contemplative form that feels eased back and at peace. That’s definitely key in the love songs and how besotted 21 Days and Lonely For You Only are without drifting even close to being cloying, and when the use of clearer detail and imagery comes in, there’s a phenomenal richness that bleeds out of almost dreamlike states of bliss on Horses and You Have Stolen My Heart, or the clear vintage iconography on Vincent that’s such a perfect fit. It’s all very much in Fallon’s wheelhouse as a writer, but the fact he’s still able to wring out the timeless charm speaks insurmountable volumes about his skills, especially when his more lush and romantic style of lyricism is so seamless with this style of instrumentation and production.
And really, if there’s anything that serves as the perfect nexus in tying everything on Local Honey together, it would be that execution and how it takes similar steps back with softer, more refined tones and a focus on the calmness of it all. Beyond the percussion being sometimes mixed a bit too loudly and stiffly (which, again, is another unfortunately detrimental factor to Vincent), the layering and melody of Local Honey is consistently enticing, right from the opener When You’re Ready with its delicate acoustic guitar bolstered by steadier brushed percussion and just the right amount of piano and bass. The softness of the execution goes a long way in allowing these tracks to open up for much more atmosphere, with the sweeping emptiness of Horses or a cadence that’s almost taking on Dire Straits’ Romeo And Juliet on Hard Feelings that sound perfect natural all on their own. The production is as unobtrusive as can be, easily the wisest move to make when it comes to conserving the richness of this sound, and at just eight songs where the variations are noticeable but still only very slight, it never feels like a sole idea becoming burned out too soon. Just in general, it feels as though there’s been more focus gone into this album than Fallon’s previous solo work, particularly in expanding the range of sound for what’s easily his most distinct solo work to date.
It’s the sort of retooling that needed to go into a solo project that, to be perfectly honest, didn’t have much legs going forward up to now. On Local Honey though, there’s a much fresher direction that’s been taken that gives this side of Fallon its own identity, keeping the building blocks of a sound and persona that’s so integral to him as an artist, but opening it up to allow new ideas to come in. The fact it feels like such a seamless transition is even better, especially when any bumps in the road are comparatively minor within this sort of country-tinged folk-rock from a musician that clearly has a stellar command of the genre. Even if it did take him three albums get here, Fallon has found a definitive sound for himself on solo projects going forward, with Local Honey being as strong of a condensation of every great element as is likely to get.
For fans of: Jason Isbell, American Aquarium, The Gaslight Anthem
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Local Honey’ by Brian Fallon is released on 27th March on Lesser Known Records / Thirty Tigers Records.