Record Review: Craig Finn 

Solo moves from leaders of great bands tend to disappoint. Thankfully, this solo debut from Craig Finn, the distinctive voice of Brooklyn rockers the Hold Steady, was intended as more a side trip than a departure.

Musically, Clear Heart Full Eyes eschews the Hold Steady's raucous bar-band sound for a quieter, rootsier (it was recorded in Austin, with local musicians), more soundscape-y style that acts as a foundation for Finn's lyrics-and-vocals-first approach rather than competing with him.

Conceptually, it's not a total departure. These are compassionate stories rooted in seedy settings, with plenty of Finn's trademark Religion ("New Friend Jesus"; the opening "Apollo Bay"' and its vision of "all 12 apostles ... seen from the shore") and Rock (Freddie Mercury and Johnny Rotten approvingly name-checked on "No Future"). But the viewpoint here is not the Hold Steady's grown-up punk-rocker or the hard-boiled clubgoer of Finn's pre-Hold Steady band Lifter Puller. Instead, there's an aging, hard-bitten, observational tone and settings that feel almost like Finn's been soaking up such rewarding marginalia as Midwest bar-band bards Wussy or short-lived downbeat detective show Terriers.

Without Hold Steady sidekick Tad Kubler's grab-bag of riffs, this album is only as good as Finn's songs — with "Terrified Eyes" (a couple crushed by sickness and hospital bills), "When No One's Watching (a singles-bar stalker in pursuit of lonely women), and "Honolulu Blues" (a word-drunk ramble) among the highlights. But it's probably appropriate that these stories are lacking the old-time-rock-and-roll deliverance proffered by Finn's main gig.

Grade: B+

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