When Craig Finn, guitarist and lead singer for The Hold Steady, released his first solo album a few years ago, it made me like him more, but it made me really appreciate his Hold Steady band mates. Finn’s voice and approach to vocal melodies are so distinctive, it can be easy to think of the rest of the Hold Steady as simply his backing band.
But his solo debut, Clear Heart Full Eyes showed how much the rest of The Hold Steady contributes. Especially lead guitarist and main song writing collaborator, Tad Kubler. So with that in mind, I think I’m a little more informed about what Finn might have to offer on his solo follow up, Faith in the Future. But at the same time, it’s the mystery about what he might do this time around by himself, that made me really excited about.
While things might be a little more straight forward and less reliant on Kubler’s rocking riffs, Maggie I’ve Been Searching for Our Son shows there’s still plenty of musical substance to support Finn’s arch approach to lyrics that sound more like American gothic epic poetry, than rock songs. Directly followed by the piano, organ and horns fuelled Roman Guitars, it’s great to hear his tails of mid-west America told with a new musical backdrop. The words are pure Finn, but the music and production are so much more beautifully lush than he usually gets to sing over.
One of the things that always attracted me to the Hold Steady was Finn’s ability to write songs that sound like excerpts from bigger works. Sometimes his songs can feel a like complete short story from beginning to end, like we’re being dropped into the middle of something with just enough context to keep things from being too alienating. Sometimes it feels like a chapter or two of something much more substantial. Sure, there are hooks and choruses, but his writing always sounds bigger than just a song. And that’s exactly the feeling I got from the Bob Mould-esque Newmeyer’s Roof and the gentle mandolin plucking of Sarah, Calling from a Hotel.
A samba beat combines with over blown guitars and some lap steel, before harmonised backing vocals pretty it all up on Going to a Show, before the hypnotic darkness and retrospection of Sandra From Scranton. Then there’s Saint Peter Upside Down. I can’t put my finger on why I thought this, but as I listened to it, all I could think of was Neil Diamond. While the chest beating passion of Tapper Avenue is pure Springsteen bravado.
I feel kind of bad about all of the comparisons to other artists, and so many references to the Hold Steady in this review. Because the thing is, Craig Finn the solo artists is a completely different entity to his day job band. Besides his voice, there’s nothing on Faith in the Future that sounds even remotely Hold Steady-ish, And while it may have evoked thoughts of a few other singers, it was always only ever because I felt like I could hear an influence, not a copy or imitation. Craig Finn has seemingly limitless stories to tell, and I’ll be happy to hear him tell them in any form for as long as he wants to put them out there.