herald

Sunday 24 September 2017

Characters in crisis haunt finn's tracks

Craig Finn Clear Heart Full Eyes (Full Time Hobby)

The classic rock style of Craig Finn's band The Hold Steady comes with a reputation for erudition and excellence. Among their cheerleaders are talents as diverse as American Psycho author Bret Easton Ellis and Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe.

With the band taking a break from touring, Finn set out to write a song a day. Then he headed for Austin, Texas, and Spoon producer Mike McCarthy, who hooked him up with a bunch of musicians that included drummer Josh Block, from White Denim, and pedal steel player Ricky Jackson, from Phosphorescent.

Sonically, the new album has little of the Hold Steady's flash dynamics and turbo-exuberance. Instead, these 11 songs, peopled with characters in crisis, come with a haunted rootsy flavour. They're the kind of existential narratives that you'd expect to be delivered in whispers at 4am by a strung-out dude wearing sunglasses in the corner of a bar on the edge of town.

"My head was really hurtin' . . ." croaks Finn on the album opener Apollo Bay, a spectral country blues that's enigmatic and claustrophobic.

Finn thinks the influence of songwriters Townes Van Zandt, Warren Zevon and Neil Young might have rubbed off on his new songs. Anyone familiar with the Drive-By Truckers might feel he's absorbed their downhome Southern gothic.



cinematic

Set over an unsettling keyboard repeat, the story of a doomed threesome makes Jackson a gripping cinematic mystery. "We were holed up in a motel room from August to November. There was Jackson, me and Stephanie. The rest I don't remember. Why are you asking about Jackson?"

A faux campfire jollity gives New Friend Jesus an added lift. "I've got a new friend and my new friend's name is Jesus," he trills. "I wish I was with Jesus when I met you. You'd be so impressed, you'd give yourself to me. Now I'm on your doorstep and you're asking me to leave . . ." HHHHI

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