The Hold Steady
Craig Finn, the former frontman for beloved Minnesota punks Lifter Puller and now the man doing most of the heavy lifting for the Hold Steady, may have the most unlikely set of pipes in all of rock & roll: With a warm, warbling rasp that sounds like an amalgam of Van Morrison, John Hiatt and Jim Henson, Finn's got the sort of voice you'd expect to hear ordering contestants to come on down to The Price is Right rather then belting out barroom rock songs for an influential indie band.
Even more improbably, the Hold Steady's second album, Separation Sunday, finds him and his versatile vocal cords in full-on Bruce Springsteen impersonation mode—and hitting the mark more often than not. Since relocating from Minneapolis to New York City, Finn has developed a vivid lyric-writing style, full of allusions to people and places that might exist in the Twin Cities, the Big Apple or just his own imagination. He's also assembled one of the best backing bands this side of E Street, one that always seems to know exactly when to punctuate a song with a well-timed guitar riff or a blast from the horn section.
But what's most satisfying about Separation Sunday is Finn's comfort level with the idea of maturity ("Lord, to be 33 forever," he muses on "Steve Nix") and the passion he invests in the modest ambitions of the characters who populate his songs. Not everybody aspires to make a living playing arena rock for an audience of millions, and if the Hold Steady just wants to be the best house band you've ever heard in your local pub, it's a dream it ought to see fulfilled.—Dave Itzkoff