New to the Mercury Records family, New Jersey’s Gaslight Anthem were due for a change. In interviews, singer/guitarist Brian Fallon expressed some regrets about 2010’s American Slang. It certainly wasn’t a bad album, but it featured some bluesy/gospel-inspired songs that didn’t add up to a consistent collection. Fallon followed this up with a side project, The Horrible Crowes, which allowed him to fully dive into these interests.

Fast forward to 2012.

With their experiences behind then, Handwritten is a band that has finally started to find a sound od their own. Their blue collar rock ‘n’ roll influences are still there, but it now sounds like they are doing more than aping what they have heard on classic rock radio stations. Also gone is the sometimes echoing audio courtesy of Ted Hutt’s production. They brought in the producer of choice for Bruce Springsteen and Pearl Jam, Brendan O’Brien, and the sound is fantastic. The unofficial addition of fellow Horrible Crow Ian Perkins as a third guitarist really helps to fill out the sound as well.

“45”” is a rousing way to start an album. Rarely has the band been so insistent and the chorus is to die for. “Mulholland Drive” is another highlight and ‘Too Much Blood’ features the most passionate vocals Fallon has offered to date. “Howl” is a short, punchy little gem buried right in the middle of the album.

The standard edition ends with the somber “National Anthem” which sounds like a logical way to end the album. If you want to spring for a few dollars more, you’ll get some extra songs. “Blue Dahlia” would have fit nicely on any of their albums. A cover of Nirvana’s “Sliver” and Tom Petty’s “You Got Lucky” are fun, if straightforward renditions of the originals. Closer “Teenage Rebellion” is very stripped down and probably would have fit better as a bonus to American Slang or maybe The Horrible Crowes album.

While The Gaslight Anthem has always been very good, Handwritten sees them truly hitting their stride.

-J.J. Ellis-

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When J.J. Ellis isn’t writing as the Allentown DVD Examiner, his Decent Exposure Radio can be heard on the air every Friday night from 10:30 to midnight (EST) on WXLV 90.3 FM or!