Hold steady, keep a clear heart and full eyes for Craig Finn
Craig Finn of The Hold Steady has taken some time away from the band to pursue his solo career. His new album Clear Heart Full Eyes consists of lyrically led, acoustic folk/country tracks.
Finn on acoustic guitar and vocals, and his accompanist Mike McCarthy on Pedal Steel, took to the stage in Rough Trade East on Thursday evening to play a few tracks for the new album and sign copies. After a contented Finn thanked the sizeable turnout for their presence, he put his best friend Mr.Capo onto the third fret and began the opening track from the album; Apollo Bay. Finn’s light strumming, closed eyes and a resonant voice, together with the haunting slides of McCarthy, almost immediately created an atmosphere, one which lulled the audience into submission.
As the set continued with the song Jackson, the clever writing of Finn became more and more apparent. He has a subtle and intriguing method of crafting his lyrics allowing his words to linger long after they finish. Finn ensures his lyrics don’t go unnoticed by keeping the guitar very simple. He alternates between light strumming, finger picking and palm mute as he creates mild variations of dominant chords. The album, recorded in Austin, Texas, really brings a flavour of Americana. Various geographical aspects of the US are frequently noted, making this listener just about ready to be dropped into the desert and get hitchhiking. In this sense one can see the inspiration that The Hold Steady count Bruce Springsteen has. This stripped acoustic guitar and slide combination instantly creates images and a sense of a lonely, outlaw America fore-fronted by the likes of Ry Cooder.
The utterly calm demeanour of Finn would make one think he had just swallowed down a few Xanex, but the competency of his performance and speech would suggest otherwise. The aura his calm seemed to create had the whole audience lulled, their heads gazing up at Finn hypnotized, apparently robbed of all niggling desires to chat. With vague grins of what looks like nostalgia creeping over Finn’s face during his performance, and in between, humble conversation, one cannot help but come to the conclusion that he is just a damn nice guy, which is always nice to see.
One cannot entirely pin down his sense of humour as he introduces the song My New Friend Jesus. Finn explains My New Friend Jesus is about the times when your friend makes another friend that you don’t know yet, but that you hate that new friend before you have even met him. Then Finn bemuses “What if that guy was Jesus?” Then begins a song which wouldn’t sound too out of place in an episode of South Park. Obviously light hearted lyrics pop up like “it’s hard to suck with Jesus in your band” and “People say we suck as at sports but it’s hard to catch with holes right through your hands” then again religion often find its way into his work, something which Finn recognises as being because of his own inconsistency towards Christianity. He has grown up Christian but finds that there are spurts in his life when it is of extreme importance and others when he doesn’t quite like certain aspects of it. Perhaps this is why he is able to look at the religious themes in a light hearted way.
The album itself consists of the following line-up: Ricky Ray Jackson (Guitar/Pedal Steel), Alex Livingston (Bass), James Stevens (Guitar), Falcom Valdez (Drums) and of course Finn himself on Guitar and Vocals. It is an album that recognises a lot of other influences, yet, certainly has its own draw and individualism and songs that will keep you coming back.
The band will be back in the UK in March playing a number of dates some of which are already sold out.
Photos: Linas Justice