Joe Michelini’s a clever fellow. The singer/songwriter of Toms River’s River City Extension drops the names of cities and states throughout this album as if he were writing the soundtrack to a travelogue – Brooklyn and Pittsburgh, Ohio, Virginia, and California all pop up in song lyrics or titles – all guaranteed to raise a hometown cheer on tour.
But there’s nothing particularly evocative of Bushwick or Williamsburg in “If You Need Me Back In Brooklyn;” “Glastonbury” doesn’t have a trace of a British accent. “Welcome To Pittsburgh” undulates with South of the Border rhythms and castanets, while “Ballad Of Oregon” has a distinctly Appalachian vibe. And “Standing Outside A Southern Riot,” if it’s about anywhere at all, seems to be about the band’s native New Jersey. The reality is that, wherever he may be or whatever scenery passes outside the tour van window, Michelini’s almost always writing about himself. Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Your Anger is an album full of regret, apology, and recrimination; it’d be downright emo if this glorious eight-piece ensemble’s musical vocabulary didn’t extend so far beyond the boundaries of that self-reflexive genre. Instead, what you get are mariachi trumpet, sonorous cello, western guitar, Springsteenian handclaps and gang vocals, power-pop ooh-ooh-ooh’s, barrelhouse piano, and bits of industrial synth clamor. Michelini’s increasingly personal lyrics – echoes of Bright Eyes and Blood On The Tracks-era Dylan abound – find their strongest voice on the album’s quietest – and surprisingly, most powerful – songs, like “Slander,” “There And Back Again,” and “The Fall The Need To Be Free.” Those are the songs, I suspect, that will resonate with audiences and touch their hearts and souls in that special way that turns fans into true believers. Today, Gaslight Anthem; tomorrow, don’t be surprised if the biggest band out of Jersey hails from Tom’s River.
– Jim Testa