Craig Finn, Clear Heart Full Eyes (2011)

Holding steady for goodness
I had never heard of Craig Finn until he was interviewed on The Colbert Report along with guitarist Tad Kubler. Then Hold Steady performed “Hurricane J” from their album Heaven is Whenever (2010). I was impressed enough that when I learned Finn was releasing a solo album, Clear Heart Full Eyes (2011) I bought it.

You regaled us with the way
that you triumphed over darkness
The kisses in the shadows and the stockings
But as the pieces come together
there’s these things that I keep hearing
About the hero that you are when no one’s watching

I saw Wendy at the Wagon Wheel, didn’t know what to tell her
She said she saw you walking by her building
She said maybe you’re ashamed that things turned out this way
You said you had to hurry off to something…

Feasting on the weakness of the women who were hoping
You might be held to half the things you told them
The wreckage that you left at the places that you slept
Moving through the bars and slowly stalking
Someone you can use that finds you charming
The story that our hero keeps well hidden
A weak man living off of weaker women

[From “When No One’s Watching”]

Finn’s songs are not crafted with melodies I would find easy to sing, but they consistently draw me into his lyrics and seem designed to make us reflective. He notices the brokenness that disfigures everything, but seems rooted in a quiet assurance that redemption can be found in Jesus. The arrangements consist of uncomplicated instrumental accompaniments, always supporting the lyrics but never competing.

I suppose you thought that I’d be eaten up
By the bars and the pigs or the sheep or the studs
I’m alive except for the inside

I suppose you thought that I’d be the first one to go…

But I don’t know nothing
Except for one thing for certain
The devil’s a person
I met him at the Riverside Perkins

[From “No Future”]

In Finn’s songs we hear impressionistic ballads, enough of a story to know what’s happening but never in so much detail that the ballad becomes dated. And Finn’s unabashed Catholicism provides him with hope without being sentimental or without the album becoming a religious one.

Everybody is saying that the lights don’t shine
But the lights shine down on me
I’ve got a new friend and my new friend’s name is Jesus…

People say we suck at sports
But they don’t understand
It’s hard to catch with holes right through your hands

Wish I was with Jesus when you loved me
I would have been a better me
That much I can guarantee

[From “New Friend Jesus”]

Finn says that when he set out to do this solo work he wanted to produce music that was a bit quieter and more narrative than Hold Steady was performing. Since I don’t know Hold Steady’s music I can’t say whether he accomplished that, but certainly the quiet narratives that are woven into the songs on Clear Heart Full Eyes are full of images and phrases that hint of ordinary life, the need for grace, and the hope that is found in Christ.


Album recommended: Clear Heart Full Eyes by Craig Finn (Vagrant; 2011).