Album Review: Craig Finn - Clear Heart Full Eyes

by Jill Riley

Clear Heart Full Eyes is the debut solo record from The Hold Steady's Craig Finn. While The Hold Steady had some down time, Finn enlisted the help of producer Mike McCarthy (his credits include working with Spoon, ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead and Heartless Bastards) to try his hand at a solo album. He gathered up some demos and flew down to Austin, Texas, and Clear Heart Full Eyes is the result.

When I heard Craig Finn was working on a solo record, my initial reaction was to be curious. I wondered if there was trouble in The Hold Steady. I wondered if he was going to go in a completely new direction. I didn't have to wonder long when Craig shared some new songs while he was a guest on The Minnesota Public Radio live program, Wits. It sparked my interest to get a taste of what he'd been cooking up. He also provided explanation on the internet (his blog, Amazon page, Twitter) saying how he was interested in trying something new and wanted to have the experience in growing as a songwriter/musician by working outside his usual zone. I can appreciate that and I commend him for recognizing the need to explain his intentions. No need for this radio DJ to analyze a musician's move any further, and for that, I thank you Mr. Finn.

Upon first listen to Clear Heart Full Eyes, it became clear that the focus of this record is Finn's writing. His lyrics are the forefront. I've considered him to be a strong lyricist since the first time I heard his work with The Hold Steady. What's different in this situation than in that of The Hold Steady is that the musical arrangements are more subtle and sort of mellowed out, allowing the listener to concentrate on the words. His delivery and writing style are true to the "Craig Finn style," littered with themes of religion, character development and solitude. What it comes down to is this; Finn is a great storyteller and I think this solo record venture was another opportunity to let his narrative voice shine.