The Horrible Crowes - Elsie (SideOneDummy, 2011)
Brian Fallon is apparently an acquired taste for me. When I first heard Sink Or Swim (XOXO Records, 2007), the debut album from his main band The Gaslight Anthem, I loved it immediately. But every subsequent release has taken me time to get into. I didn't care for their 2008 album The '59 Sound (SideOneDummy) at first, but after a couple listens it became my favorite of their albums.
His side band with former GA guitar tech Ian Perkins is no exception. I got it when it came out, listened to it, and didn't give it much thought. It was alright, but didn't meet my expectations based on pre-release interviews. On a whim, I put it back in my car's CD player the other day and realized that, like latter GA releases I just needed to give it another listen or two.
Most of the reviews I read of the album talked about how much it diverged from Fallon's main band, and to be honest I just don't hear it that way. Despite being written specifically for Horrible Crowes, many of the songs sound like they could have been GA tracks. The lead single, for example. As I listened to "Behold The Hurricane," I realized that I could have been told it was an unreleased song from the '59 sessions and I wouldn't have doubted it.
This should not be taken to mean that it sounds the same as GA. Every GA album has had one or two tracks that sound completely different from the rest of the album but still fit in perfectly. For the most part, Elsie is made up of tracks like those. While GA built their sound on New Jersey influence filtered through punk rock guitar sounds, Horrible Crowes put more focus on percussion, organ and piano as well as vocal style and non-traditional rock instrumentations. They also drop the Jersey influence in favor of a variety of other influences, mainly what Fallon called "night-time music" (in interviews, he specifically name-dropped Nick Cave, Tom Waits and Afghan Whigs among others). Horrible Crowes also trade GA's punk poetry lyrics style for a darker, more cryptic style.
The only song that truly sounds unique from GA is "I Witnessed A Crime," which takes on a weird vibe of a lounge act covering Bob Marley. It also has the most present Tom Waits influence, with Fallon's nearly spoken-word vocals taking on an atmosphere like a younger, less rough Waits.
Overall, a great album. Not Fallon's best recordings ever, but it certainly holds up to the rest of his discography so far. It's certainly not a party album, but sounds great on late-night drives through the rain.