Clear Heart Full Eyes
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Clear Heart Full Eyes
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2012 solo album from the Hold Steady mainman. Produced by Mike McCarthy, the album features Finn backed by musicians Josh Block, Jesse Ebaugh, Ricky Ray Jackson, and Billy White. The album was recorded in Austin, Texas during the summer of 2011 and captures the raw excitement of Finn's songs, most of which were captured in no more than three takes.
From the Artist
From Craig Finn:
In July 2011, I went to Austin Texas to make a record. The Hold Steady was on a four month break, and I wanted to try something a little different. Earlier in the year, I had written a bunch of songs that were outside of the norm for The Hold Steady, a little quieter and perhaps more narrative. I also wanted to gain some experience and insight into the process of making a record by working with new people.
It was July in Austin. It was hot. Really hot.
I had enlisted Mike McCarthy to produce the record. I really admire his work and his thoughts on songs and recording. Prior to arriving, I had sent Mike acoustic demos of 23 songs. They were very rough recordings, just acoustic guitar and vocals recorded live intmy laptop. The songs had mostly been written in the first half of 2011, when I was experimenting with trying to write a new song every day.
When I arrived in Austin, we trimmed the list down to 14 songs and made simple but good sounding recordings of each of these, each live with just acoustic and vocal. Then we talked about possible instrumentation and arrangements. We listened to records. We conceptualized and talked about what we were hearing in our heads. We sketched out rough ideas
The next Monday, four musicians showed up: Josh Block, Jesse Ebaugh, Ricky Ray Jackson, and Billy White. Mike had chosen them, and he chose well. We said hellos and got to work. We moved quickly. I would show them the song and they would learn it, and quickly we were rolling tape. I sang the vocals live in the studio, something I hadn't really done before. I don't believe any song took more than three takes. These players brought a ton of enthusiasm and energy to the recording. It was really exciting to watch and hear them play together. We averaged a couple songs a day. By that Friday evening we had 14 songs tracked, including the vocals. We spent a few days listening and then did a few overdubs. We drove around in Austin, listening to rough mixes.
I left Austin three weeks after I arrived. It was still really hot.
When considering the songs as a whole, I realized that a lot of the songs deal with displacement, and people that are struggling while out of their element or comfort zone. A lot of the songs are about being alone. This is all pretty fertile ground for a musiciathat spends a lot of time on tour. It's also telling about the way we made this record, going to a friendly but fairly unfamiliar place to work with all new people.
I'm calling this record "Clear Heart Full Eyes". It's a juxtaposed reference to Friday Night Lights, a TV show that excited and moved me and also happened in Texas. Further, "Clear Heart" signifies honesty and transparency, and "Full Eyes" suggests experience. Thus, it's about being optimistic and open without succumbing to the weariness or doubt that comes with age and experience. To me, that is what it's all about.
I hope you enjoy the music. I am very proud of it.
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Not Much Left Of Us
Craig Finn is like Bob Dylan - you either enjoy his voice or you don't. The question for most people considering Clear Heart Full Eyes is going to be where it falls on the catalog - is it more LFTR/PLLR, The BrokerDealer or The Hold Steady? Does it suck? Should I buy it?
The Hold Steady, No, Yes.
With that resolved - Finn's solo album does have it's occasional moments of awkwardness (lyrical and musical) but overall there were few moments that made me wish it had more Kubler. While Clear Heart Full Eyes fails to reach the heights of his best collaborative works there is little for Finn to be ashamed of here. (Ok, My New Friend Jesus is not the strongest track he's ever put out. I give you that up front.) Oddly one of his strongest tracks, Sarah I'm Surrounded, is not available on the CD. Thematically Finn is still working with his familiar group of people trying to get past obstacles and capture something bright for a moment. Here they face depression, medical bills and the inevitable erosions of time. Some of the tracks could have easily been put out by The Hold Steady, but framing them in this quieter style serves Finn's vocal style well. Solo projects can feel like a closet clearing - something the artist had to get out to go on with his main work. Clear Heart Full Eyes feels like an overflow from an artist with more to say than one band has room for. I look forward to the next album by The Hold Steady, but Clear Heart Full Eyes has won my heart on its own merits.
If there are drawbacks to the album, it's that the lyrics and music are a bit looser in form and content - less succinct, more exploratory - than we might be used to from this writer. The album has the feel of a private session with Finn - we're privy to readings from the contemplative 40-something's notebook, as opposed to the raucous sing-alongs of the party host to whom we're more accustomed. No one's going to be pumping their fists to this one - and that's part of the album's charm. The mosh pit is on the other side of town, kid - CHFE takes place in the alley between the coffeehouse and the sleepy honkytonk.
The best popular artists seem to strike a balance between art and business, fan base and introspection. Devotees of Finn's THS and L/P work might be jonesing for the next anthemic concept album, and who knows, Finn might eventually deliver it, if he so chooses. Meanwhile, it's a pleasure to see an artist continue stretching and reaching, remaining familiar, but nowhere near growing stale or repetitive.
egalitarian push to include the whole band in every number. With Clear Heart Full Eyes, Craig Finn is allowed to orchestrate the songs. This doesn't mean it's just one of those acoustic guitar albums, it means the numbers are tighter, better arranged and more dynamic. The tracks themselves are overall excellent. His lyrics are, as always, a nice blend of wit, angst and a touch of references which an old man like me may not catch (what is a "VB"?).
Tracks 3 thru 6 are amazing (I only get to listen while I drive, so I do not identify tracks by title).
(Note: If you are are offended by any mention of religion, be prepared for a basket load of religious references. If you cannot tolerate this, I suggest you still buy it and try to grow up a little.)
Not only would I buy this again, but I bought a copy and had it to delivered to one of my sons, who, like me, finds many of the tracks very familiar to situations we encountered in our past.
In my humble opinion, Craig Finn writes the edgiest, cleverest and most truthful lyrics of anyone in comtemporary music. He talks the bittersweet language of abuse, both chemical and emotional.
He is funny and and incredibly tuned in to the pain of the pull. He is the most likeable loser.
Yet in the face of all the bad decisions and bad results he still "stays positive".
Music-wise the production is tight and the back up musicians are excellent.
But, as with The Hold Steady the lyrics are the real power.
The vinyl is quiet and much more dynamic than the CD & MP3. It really compliments the organic instrumentation. Unfortunately, the vinyl does not contain "Rented Room" even though there is plenty of space for it. Nice packaging with an embossed cover & individual postcards with lyrics/photo. Download code included.
Most recent customer reviews
On first hearing, it's understandable why Craig Finn's debut solo record was never going to be a Hold Steady album.Read more