There is sometimes music that stops you dead in your tracks on first listening and you already know that you will be listening to the beats of it, the story of it – the meter and time and rhyme of it will stay with you for as long as you can still hear, and possibly even after that for a while, before your mind forgets the mechanics and then the concept of sound, and then silence just plays on an endless loop.
A great example of this rare phenomenon, instant love at first listen, is Craig Finn’s new album “Clear Heart Full Eyes”. Craig asked if I would be in Los Angeles for his show at the Troubadour this week, but I am already off to my Atlanta apartment, so I will catch him at The Earl on March 5th. I am behind with everything and I knew his new album was coming out soon but I didn’t know it was out already. It is – and he’s on tour so catch him if you can, and get this album immediately if you haven’t already. And you can come with me to see him at The Earl in March. East Atlanta is a lot of fun. Let’s go. We never go to that side of town and we should do it more.
I was a late comer to all things Hold Steady, and after meeting them and watching them perform classic Bob Mould songs at his tribute at Disney Hall last year I was an instant fan. I went home completely transformed by their sound and have spent the last few months catching up on the years of their amazing music I have missed. I rock out indecently hard in the hybrid to “Most People are DJs” on my way back from motorcycle school and tattoo appointments and good and sometimes bad comedy shows, the solitary drivetimes late at night when I feel young and bloody and sweaty and righteous, at my powerful best.
Craig Finn is a fearsome lyricist, and being a bit of a prideful wordsmith myself, of course I am consumed with jealousy. His linguistic swagger renders me speechless (for once). I want to burn my thesaurus, using my rhyming dictionary as kindling. His powerful poetry is the gasoline I can throw onto the fire. He’s better than me. He’s better than everyone. Listening to him makes me want to give everything up, just so I can spend more time listening to him.
Clear heart, full eyes is a wonderful addition to your Hold Steady collection, but it’s also completely its own gorgeous creation. Craig’s voice is earnest and growly as ever, and in his solo work, the music frames his masterful sonnets differently. Yes there’s guitars – great guitars – but also lap steel. Slides made from old fashioned coke bottles – I can feel them squeal down the fretboard and it shakes me up. You can hear the country roots in the wood of the instruments. It’s Austin for sure. The way they ride the scales on top of each other, I can tell the musicians are wearing worn out but beautifully embroidered cowboy boots, stamping them on the floorboards in time. There’s warmth to the playing that suggests old unchanged strings and careful but intuitive production. It’s spare but rich, like the wealth of compassion that bursts from the grooves of a nicely preserved vinyl of “Greetings from Asbury Park NJ”.
Craig’s words are the magic of the music, making every moment of this thing momentous. At his best, he rivals Bob Dylan in his dark humor and wisdom borne of suffering and a plain, natural aptitude for cool. There’s moments where I am struck by the bare honesty and purity of Craig’s writing, as if I can’t believe what he is saying is being said and said so stunningly well. Anyway, it’s a fantastic album. I love it.