The Gaslight Anthem
Like Against Me!'s Tom Gabel, Gaslight Anthem frontman Brian Fallon is a tattooed punk with an affinity for big classic-rock hooks and the Boss. Both Gabel and Fallon favor ringing arena-sized anthems about suburban working-class folks looking back on lost dreams and forward to better times. And on their third album, New Jersey's Gaslight Anthem pull it all together for one last chance to make it real. "Fortunes came for the richer men," Fallon sings on the excellent title cut, "while we're left with gallows, waiting for us liars to come down and hang." American Slang's protagonists are beaten but not broken, literally and metaphorically taking blows: "He found the bandages inside the pen and the stitches on the radio," Fallon sings about "Boxer"'s antihero, a guy who finds redemption in the ring and in old songs. Throughout, the band sounds epic, piling on huge hooks while Fallon sings like Born to Run-era Springsteen, passionately pushing every word toward salvation. Is Fallon rock and roll's future? It's too early to tell, but he sure sounds like it here. — Michael Gallucci
There aren't many surprises on the Pernice Brothers' sixth album, which is good news for fans of Joe Pernice's well-crafted literary paeans. His first album in four years — if you don't count the collection of covers that accompanied last year's novel It Feels So Good When I Stop — maintains his long winning streak. Pernice showcases a long-dormant rock bite in several songs ("Something for You," "Fucking and Flowers") and returns to pedal-steel country in earnest for the first time since he fronted the Scud Mountain Boys in the '90s. That sound is central to "We Love the Stage," one of Pernice's finest songs and an unabashed mash note to performing. "My boy thinks I'm his uncle," Pernice confesses, contemplating his career with a shrug. "You don't choose who you love." That isn't Goodbye, Killer's only tour de force. "Bechamel" reduces lust to a two-and-a-half-minute essay on gastronomic consummation, "Jacqueline Susann" pursues a comely and trashy novel reader with a power-pop bite straight outta This Year's Model, and the jangling Beatlesque "The Great Depression" offers a familiarly downcast refusal to let go. In other words, it's another triumph for this terrific and underappreciated songwriter. — Chris Parker
HansonShout It Out
In the dozen-plus years since their breakthrough song, the three Hanson brothers have been trying to live up to and live down "MMMBop." Their eighth album reaches a compromise. After spending the past decade proving their chops with R&B-style workouts, Isaac, Taylor, and Zac return to the pop that made them famous. But there are also plenty of times on Shout It Out where 27-year-old Taylor belts like a blue-eyed soul man. The best cuts — the piano-driven "Waiting for This," the rolling "Kiss Me When You Come Home" — split the difference between the group's ambitions. And "Thinkin' 'Bout Somethin'" is the most fun they've had on record since "MMMBop." Hanson mostly stay away from the heavy-handed navel-gazing of their last album, 2007's The Walk, filling Shout It Out with the sort of soulful pop that made them teen stars. MMMbop, indeed. — Gallucci
Pop craftsman Ed Harcourt pulls out the stops for his fifth album, gilding the 11 tracks with an elegant grandeur to match his lithe lyrical lines. Harcourt has always had a baroque flair and penchant for languorous atmospherics, balanced by felicitous stylistic tastes and united by his evocative, Jeff Buckley-inspired croon and strong hooks. While up-tempo is a relatively rare color for Harcourt, Lustre's melodies are so brisk, the songs often seem more energetic than they actually are. It's occasionally a beautiful and thoughtful album, but the predominance of lingering ballads is overwhelmed by the sweet richness of strings, horns, and angelic backing vocals. "Lachrymosity," a keenly worded critique of sad-sack singers, is a highlight — somewhat tongue-in-cheek but also smart, catchy, and concise. Harcourt mixes the effortless panache of a Brill Building acolyte with a pickup artist's sharp-witted assurance. He'll disarm you without seeming too cool for school. — Parker
All My Friends Are Here
When Arif Mardin passed away four years ago, the Grammy-winning producer left a large legacy, having worked with the Bee Gees, Aretha Franklin, and Norah Jones over the course of his 40-year career. He also left an unfinished project that was recently completed by his son Joe. Predictably, All My Friends Are Here is an impeccably produced work featuring performances by many of the people Mardin created hits for, including Bette Midler, Chaka Khan, and Carly Simon. But it's also an inconsistent album, with old-school all-stars like Phil Collins and Hall & Oates nudging against cocktail-lounge drippings from newcomers Nicki Parrot and Amy Kohn. And nobody here gets too worked up over the material, which admittedly isn't worth getting too worked up over (most of it was penned by Mardin). It's more tribute to a record-industry giant by the artists he helped shape than summation of a great career.