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The Gaslight Anthem - 'The '59 Sound Sessions'


1. The '59 Sound

2. God's Gonna Cut You Down

3. Patient Ferris Wheel

4. Miles Davis & The Cool

5. Placeholder

6. High Lonesome

7. Great Expectations

8. Our Father's Sons

9. Film Noir

When The Gaslight Anthem were pushed into the spotlight ten years ago with "The '59 Sound" they were presented as a modern reinvention of Bruce Springsteen. Not that we really needed that, not with Bruce's constant retooling of himself whenever he wanted. But after gaining approval of the Boss himself and releasing a few more albums, the band decided to go on hiatus after 2014. To celebrate the ten year anniversary of the album's original release, the band are getting back together for a clutch of dates as well as releasing "The '59 Sound Sessions."

I don't know why something like this sits a little uncomfortably with me but it does. I like The Gaslight Anthem but to reconvene the a band on hiatus to celebrate an album ten years old certainly seems to have the phrase 'marketing tool' tattooed all over it. I know they're not the first band to have done this but ten years seems to be a short time. Perhaps if they were still currently active or have a few more years travelled down the road I possibly wouldn't mind as much? Who knows? Anyway I know we're here to see what my thoughts are on the release itself rather than the reasons behind it so let's move on to it.

"The '59 Sound Sessions" features nine cuts from the original album sessions and is released on the band's own SideOneDummy imprint and that's it. It's probably aimed more for completists than the casual fan, which probably explains why it hasn't been repackaged with a disc of the original album or combined the two as a super long cd (although there is a limited vinyl version with deluxe photo book if you've got the cash and a suitable hole in your collection that needs filling).

It opens with a raw take on 'The '59 Sound' which is a good way to start. It's a live-in-the-studio version that reminds us of the fire the band have for playing live. The song will need no introduction to fans of the band and is a suitable hook to bait newcomers.

'Gods Gonna Cut You Down' is a take on a traditional gospel song that's been covered by the likes of Johnny Cash in the past. It's been adapted by several other artists (including Moby who sampled it heavily for his track 'Run On' from goods album "Play"). The band produce quite a sparse, stark reading of it which echoes it's sombre tone. It falls short of being a dirge which is a good thing but it's placement as second track feels odd as it plods along, especially after the opening song.

The next two tracks are more like the opener. Again, 'Patient Ferris Wheel' and 'Miles Davis & The Cool' both feature on the album's original release. These aren't reinventions; The Gaslight Anthem adhere to the usual Rock 'n Roll format of guitar, bass, drums and vocals so, again, they come across as live studio takes. They're good and prove once again that they're capable musicians but there's nothing really separating them from the original versions. If they at least took them from a gig in front of an audience there'd be a bit of a spark but here I keep asking myself why?

'Placeholder' has a bit more energy and after a brief instrumental break you hear the lyrics "You and your high top sneakers and your sailor tattoos....." before you realise that it's actually an early version of what would become 'Old White Falcon'. It's cool to see the progression and how it would change, and this makes it one of the more interesting songs on this collection.

'High Lonesome' slashes it's way in, a different chorus on this version to what it would grow into (thankfully as the chorus here is nowhere near as good as what Fallon would later write) before we hear the familiar chiming guitar intro of 'Great Expectations'. Again, another decent take on a good song but there's nothing here that makes it essential or a must hear.

'Our Father's Sons' with a twanging guitar and shuffling drum that suggests a more Nashville influence than New Jersey. Again, another sparse take with Fallon's voice sounding uncomfortable and a little bit strained at times that left me feeling like perhaps this track should have left elsewhere if it wasn't for the interesting take on the opening picked riff from 'Great Expectations' that closes the song out.

Final track on the collection is 'Film Noir' another track that appears on the original album but turning up here in a more rough form and a few suitable differences. It's nice to hear the vocals in a less polished environment, as with the rest of the album, as part of the draw with the band is Brian's voice and how rough and natural it sounds.

I do have some problems with the album, especially after I've listened to it a few times. It feels like it's release is something more than it actually is. It's like it's out here masquerading as a facsimile of the original album. If you're thinking of value, it's nine tracks and a runtime that's shorter than the short length of the original album. The quality of the songs are decent enough but there's nothing here that justifies it as an essential listen or release. In a market where anniversaries of albums are usually celebrated/cashed in on with a bombardment of tracks and quantity is prioritised to make up for quality, "The '59 Sound Sessions" falls short in both departments. Perhaps they should have just stuck to the tour and released this as a bonus with a live DVD afterwards instead? Either way this defiantly feels me leaving a little underwhelmed with what's on offer. Definitely more one for the completist fan, and even then I would wait until it's in a sale somewhere.

Review - Scott Hamilton

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