After spending a decade singing openhearted confessionals as the frontman of New Jersey punks Gaslight Anthem, gravel-voiced Brian Fallon is turning down his amp for a solo debut full of acoustic ballads and midtempo alt-country songs. Fallon references heroes like James Brown and Van Morrison as he transforms rough old memories “from a long, long time ago” into communal punk-folk therapy. For a guy whose songs have always traded in the pains and pleasures of nostalgia, the Fallon of Painkillers seems to have arrived at a newfound, forward-looking clarity. As he puts it on the wistful closing ballad: “I don’t let reminders get me down like before.”
Fallon recruited studio pros like Catherine Popper and Butch Walker to add delicate harmony vocals, spectral synths, and tasteful guitar flourishes. Some songs, like “Red Lights” and “Long Drives” counter Gaslight’s maxed-out swagger with stripped-down sensitivity while others, like “Rosemary” and “Wonderful Life,” offer a quieter take on the Replacements-inspired Americana that Gaslight does best. Painkillers isn’t quite a rebirth, but with his band struggling to stay vibrant in recent years, it feels a little like a new morning.