"There were Southern accents on the radio as I drove home/And at night I wake up with the sheets soaking wet/It's a pretty good song/Maybe you know the rest." Of course we know the rest. (One minor correction, though. "I'm on Fire" is a whole lot more than just a "pretty good song," it's a work of art. But we'll let that slide for now.)
Another generation of Springsteen-serenading Jersey kids, the Gaslight Anthem—the band who penned the above lyrics in their sweltering Southern love song "High Lonesome"—are responsible for one of 2008's most surprising recordings, the inspiring and seemingly out-of-nowhere The '59 Sound. Wearing their working-class pride on their tattered denim sleeves, the quartet blazes a scorched path through anthem-rich punk rock tunes buoyed by a fervent work ethic, one that is evident both on and off the stage. "All of us have had some terrible jobs in the past," explains frontman Brian Fallon. "I was working at a gas station in the morning and delivering pizza at night." And, given that they are the product of the Garden State, there's that whole fanatical devotion to the Boss thing as well.
At the heart of The '59 Sound is a band of old souls fronting a new punk band, filtering their blue-collar ballads through a thick haze of romanticized notions, the purest of intentions, and a possibly unhealthy obsession with Bruce Springsteen. Then again, there might not be such a thing as an unhealthy obsession with the Boss—just ask the Hold Steady—and the Gaslight Anthem's ode to Asbury Park (and beyond) is presented with a graceful dose of respect. Playing out like a lyrical scavenger hunt of Springsteen references—some more obvious ("No surrender, my Bobby Jean") than others ("The Backseat," which feels like it's pooled from a dozen different Boss songs and reads like a ransom note of his poetic songwriting)—The '59 Sound is a rewarding, hook-heavy offering to their home state's most symbolic icon.
"All kids growing up anywhere should like Bruce Springsteen," explains Fallon, who also points out the link between the band and the Springsteen household. "I know that his kid is a fan of ours and came to a show, but he has yet to make an appearance."
While the gravel-voiced Fallon isn't shy about his band's love affair with the Bruce, the Gaslight Anthem is hardly an E Street cover band. The '59 Sound is peppered with the reckless anxiety of a life running off the rails, the worried panic of watching your 20s anxiously tick away, and growing old in a young man's game. Littered with references to the novel of the same name, "Great Expectations" opens the album with a staggering dose of regret ("I saw taillights last night in a dream about my first wife/Everybody leaves and I'd expect as much from you") delivered with a frantic sense of urgency. This continues with the masterfully assembled "Miles Davis & The Cool" and the raucous "Even Cowgirls Get the Blues," with its grand refrain of "Can I get a witness pretty baby?/I still love Tom Petty songs and driving old men crazy."
Tethered to their influences, the gentlemen of the Gaslight Anthem balance the emotional force of The '59 Sound alongside an ardent devotion to a certain Jersey rocker whom they so fiercely admire, and you can't help but think that Bruce would be proud.