Today’s Cool Album of the Day (#636 in the Series) is Craig Finn – Clear Heart, Full Eyes
Craig Finn is better known as the singer and main songwriter in The Hold Steady, an excellent band who seem to exist somewhat out of time. What I mean by that is that despite some great music, notably the album Boys & Girls In America, they just aren’t as well-known as they really should be and that, I feel, if they’d been around in the 80′s they would be hailed by now as a Classic American Band. On a par with the likes of The Replacements, Green On Red and BoDeans maybe. Hopefully that will all change soon but for now we have this, Finn’s debut solo album.
Now, for the most part, The Hold Steady tend to play an up-tempo, loud guitar, rocking kind of music and sometimes, especially live, Finn’s wonderfully evocative lyrics tend to get a bit lost in the mix. Which is a shame because he’s got a lot to say. And that’s the main reason why I think this album works so well, the music is more subdued, mostly, and subtle and really gives a chance for those words to stand out.
It opens with “Apollo Bay”, a song about a guy who flees from something, life, and tries to get his head together. Musically it’s a slow-building soundscape, reminiscent of early 90′s work by American Music Club. Sets things up nicely.
“When No Ones Watching” is bitter, a subtle yet still scathing attack on a waste of space, someone who treats women and friends like dirt and been too cowardly to face up to his own actions: “the wreckage that you left at the places that you slept…….someone you can use that finds you charming”…………
“New Friend Jesus” seems to poke fun at the born again, convinced that their new friend has turned their life around and that nothing can possibly go wrong from now on.
The first few times that I played “Terrified Eyes,” something bugged me. It was reminding me so much of another tune but I couldn’t quite place it. Eventually it came to me: “Harlem River Blues” by Justin Townes Earle. Both are great songs and Craig’s is the tale of a couple of lovers, one of whom has been in hospital (or rehab?) recently and is trying to pull things together, against the odds:
“In the middle of the day / she mostly feels ok / but when the nighttime comes / she just feels terrified”
So far, so good then and there’s really not a bad track on here.
Finn pulls off a masterstroke right at the end though, a trio of songs which are connected and appear to tell the tale of the end of a relationship. And, cunningly, he begins at the end.
Rented Room is superb, a tale of lost love and at least one broken life. The lyrics could have been lifted straight from a Raymond Carver story:
“When things got bad we would just drink and sit / when things were still good we would dance”.
Mind you I could say that about most of the album’s words, Finn has a great ability to tell a tale whilst leaving lots of room for the listener to fill in the blanks. You wonder how the characters got to where they are and what will happen to them in the future. Rented Room is about where the man is now, a while after the relationship has ended, he’s on his own, living in some crummy place, casting his mind back..……
In the next song, Balcony, he tells us about the night when it all went sour and the betrayal occurred and about the things he misses most:
“I miss the way your eyes they used to spark as you looked back over your shoulder”
Again, it’s engaging stuff and leads us perfectly to the final piece of the puzzle, “Not Much Left Of Us.”
There’s no way we can know for sure how much of this actually happened, if any of it, but the crucial thing is that it’s believable, it rings true and that’s enough.
And that’s just about your lot. Finn went down to Austin to record this one and he and the band he picked up down there have certainly done a fine job, it’s a wonderful album and my first favourite of 2012. Let’s hope there’s many more to come..…..…….
I’ll leave the last word to Craig Finn himself, when asked about the album he replied “It’s about being optimistic and open without succumbing to the weariness or doubt that comes with age”
Something we would all be advised to remember!
–Stephen Dalrymple, Glasgow, Scotland
- Apollo Bay 5:45
- When No One’s Watching 3:46
- No Future 3:43
- New Friend Jesus 3:09
- Jackson 3:18
- Terrified Eyes 4:46
- Western Pier 3:51
- Honolulu Blues 4:15
- Rented Room 4:36
- Balcony 3:13
- Not Much Left of Us 4:20
- Craig Finn – vocals, guitar
- Josh Block – drums, percussion
- Jesse Ebaugh – bass guitar, upright bass, bass six, organ
- Ricky Ray Jackson – guitars, pedal steel
- Billy White – guitars, bass six
- Catherine Davis – piano, organ, keyboards
- Katie Holmes – fiddle
- Hope Irish – backing vocals
- Will Johnson – backing vocals