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The Gaslight Anthem: Revisiting Sounds Of '59

Rock 'n' roll bands from New Jersey toil in the long and inescapable shadow of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. Most try to minimize the influence, but not The Gaslight Anthem. The quartet has just issued a new album, called The '59 Sound, filled with narratives that recall, and in several cases refer directly to, Springsteen's early works. It's one of the year's great surprises.

Singer-songwriter Brian Fallon grew up five blocks from E Street, and says that until this album, he did everything possible to avoid sounding too much like Springsteen.

Eventually, Fallon realized that he couldn't shake The Boss, so he stopped trying. He found himself writing sprawling, detail-rich songs that romanticize the end of adolescence. That's an overly familiar, and thoroughly exhausted, Springsteen subject. But when The Gaslight Anthem goes there, it somehow resonates differently.

The '59 Sound was recorded in two weeks, and much of it captures the moment when the renegade in his late teen years bumps into the responsibilities of the adult world for the first time. It's sober stuff, and yet it doesn't feel that way: The Gaslight Anthem plays with the ripping punk-rock intensity associated with Warped Tour bands.

Usually, when a young rock songwriter invokes an idol — be it Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Otis Redding, or even Charles Dickens, who turns up several times here — what follows is something that'll make you cringe. A self-conscious grab at reflected credibility. That's not the case with The Gaslight Anthem. Fallon might be dropping names, but he's not putting on airs. In the great rock 'n' roll tradition, he uses those big, hundred-dollar references to tell his own stories.

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Tom Moon has been writing about pop, rock, jazz, blues, hip-hop and the music of the world since 1983.