Craig Finn, “Clear Heart Full Eyes” (Vagrant)
Just before the final chord on the song “Terrified Eyes,” Craig Finn counts out the beat — “one, two, three, four” — to ensure the band finishes together.
“Clear Heart Full Eyes” wasn’t heavily rehearsed, and it benefits from the casual approach. With the Hold Steady on hold, lead singer Finn enlisted producer Mike McCarthy to hook him up with four musicians in an Austin, Texas, studio for his first solo album. He sang his vocals live, kept takes to a minimum and completed recording in a few days.
The result is more relaxed and reflective than the Hold Steady’s arena-worthy rock. At one point, Finn sounds as though he’s leading a poetry reading rather than a recording session.
The intimate atmosphere suits the material. Finn sings about heartache, solitude, faith and doubt, with references to Jesus on six songs, including the first four. Finn hasn’t become a Bible Belter, but he’s clearly influenced by his Texas surroundings. The album title was inspired by the TV series “Friday Night Lights” and several songs take a twangy turn thanks to Ricky Ray Jackson’s edgy pedal steel.
Elsewhere Jackson’s guitar interplay with Billy White provides plenty of bite, and while Finn’s laid-back here, he remains a rocker at heart. This music won’t fill arenas, but it should be welcome in any club.
CHECK THIS TRACK OUT: Over chugging guitars on “No Future,” Finn sings about the Crucifixion, Freddie Mercury, the devil and Johnny Rotten.