For all the fetishization of Craig Finn's words — which he's spit out in knotty bundles on many albums by rock bands The Hold Steady and Lifter Puller — he's usually careful to dress them up in brash, populist sounds. His desperate, damaged characters may live their lives on the brink, keeping one eye trained on the redemption brought about by some combination of God and rock 'n' roll, but Finn rarely leaves their stories unadorned. His words are usually propped up by the bruising guitars of Tad Kubler and positively Springsteenian bar-band arrangements; listeners can revel in his world-weary wordplay, pump their fists in time with the music or, for maximum effect, combine the two.
But on his new solo album, Clear Heart Full Eyes, Finn kicks himself free from the crutches of rock. It's a sad sort of breakup record, barren and broken and informed by the wisdom of age, but his instantly recognizable speak-singing ramble remains. Finn's starker side is, of course, nicely conducive to stripped-down arrangements behind Bob Boilen's desk at the NPR Music offices: All these mournful, inward-facing songs (including the unreleased "Jeremiah's Blues") really require is Finn, his acoustic guitar and the indispensable pedal steel of Ricky Ray Jackson. There'll be plenty of time for Finn to blow speakers when he's back with The Hold Steady — all in due time.
- "Apollo Bay"
- "Western Pier"
- "Jeremiah's Blues"
Producer: Bob Boilen; Editor and Videographer: Michael Katzif; Audio Engineer: Kevin Wait; photo by Doriane Raiman/NPR