Brian Fallon of New Jersey punk band the Gaslight Anthem grew up in Springsteen Country — one of his boyhood homes was four blocks from E Street. The 30-year-old singer (and former carpenter) is at once totally earnest and supercharming — the type of guy who'd help you work on your car and then tell you his life story over a six-pack.
Gaslight's first two records were soulful punk albums that brought recovering emo kids and middle-aged dads into the fold. American Slang arrives with serious advance buzz: The choruses are more sculpted, but the band's tough-as-leather rush is as hard as ever, and Fallon howls so hard, he sounds like he's aiming to get a section of the Jersey Turnpike named after him.
Fallon's characters are the kind who often populate working-class anthems: "Boxer" is about a creative type who gets beaten up in the ring and in his head, and "The Queen of Lower Chelsea" is populated by desperate hustlers and rich girls losing themselves in the big city. American Slang can feel forced, as if Fallon is searching for meaning just beyond his fingertips. But when he attaches his howl to a first-class tune, he's unstoppable: "The Diamond Church Street Choir" is a bouncy number about the power of music with a touch of Billy Joel cheese. Like Fallon's best tunes, it treads the line between sublime and a little silly — and hits you right in the gut.