Album Review: The Gaslight Anthem – The ’59 Sound Sessions

After a few years of slumber, The Gaslight Anthem have surfaced from their hiatus, namely to celebrate the tenth anniversary of their seminal album The ’59 Sound. My knowledge of this band is minimal, I’ve been aware of them for a few years but it wasn’t until Brian Fallon’s Sleepwalkers album earlier this year opened my ears and I delved into his music and The Gaslight Anthem’s. Essentially, The ’59 Sound was a slow burner for me but right now, it’s on regular rotation (a story for another day).

To celebrate their return, The Gaslight Anthem have delved into the vault and given the world The ’59 Sound Sessions. Recorded in a day in their native New Jersey, many of the songs found here would make their way onto the full-realised album. Naturally, everything on this is much more raw than the polished final versions. It’s rough around the edges, Fallon’s vocals are more gravelly and there’s a cynical tint to them where the final versions held more optimism.

Half the songs which feature on the full album are here but there’s a couple of notable additions, namely the cover of Johnny Cash’s “God’s Gonna Cut You Down”. It’s a meaty rendition and as dark as the original and in this basic format, is a weighty beast. To have beefed it up to the “full” version, the soul of the song would have been lost. Elsewhere, “Our Father’s Sons” features country twangings and has a chain gang lament and feel to it before the outro features the opening notes of “Great Expectations” (which is still present in this demo form). Lyrically, it thematically fits the album but its presence wouldn’t have enhanced The ’59 Sound. Meanwhile, “Pleaceholder” has a pop punk vibe to it before it would transform into “Old White Lincoln” and again, the latter is the better version.

As for the songs which made it onto the final version, it’s clear to anyone who’s spent time with the album what the songs became. The germs and ideas are all there and present, if a little rough and ready. Songs like “High Lonesome” and “Great Expectations” had more urgency to them in this form and more of a punk edge to them before they were curtailed. “Film Noir” also features a filthy, pulsing bass line in it with less guitar. The title track is the only track to be as close to how it would feature on the album, there’s very little been changed and all the little quirks and soundscapes feature. Clearly, when they went into the studio to demo the songs, it was one that was worked on the most and whilst the other songs were by no means neglected, obviously the band knew they had something special on their hands.

Of course, it’s not just a set of demos from that era of the band, there’s a full book of photos to accompany it. Showing the trials and tribulations and the early successes of a band about to break into the public consciousness. There are candid shots, the band unwinding, playing dingy basement venues, tour passes and even a couple of shots with one of their most famous moments: Bruce Springsteen appearing onstage with them at Hard Rock Calling in Hyde Park. With its intro by Benny Horowitz, it opens with a perfect quote to capture the moment in time for the band and indeed, many other bands past, present and future can relate to:

The journey a band goes through is complex. It’s cheap to call it dumb luck and presumptuous to think you’re just simply better than everyone who came before you. It’s a virtual stew of variables… personalities, discovering your sound and capabilities, family, timing, ambition, expectations, health, money, goals and, of course, straight-up dumb luck.

The ’59 Sound Sessions is perfect for those die-hard fans of The Gaslight Anthem. It’ll whet the appetite of those waiting to see them when they return to the UK next month when they play The ’59 Sound in its entirety. The band made the right choices in which songs to drop from the full release but to get an insight into how these songs developed is a delight, even if from a curiosity standpoint.

The ’59 Sound Sessions is released on 15th June

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