Craig Finn moved to Brooklyn years ago, but he’s still a good Midwestern boy at heart. He invited The A.V. Club to his apartment when we were in New York City recently, and was a very welcoming host, playing us one of the best songs from his first solo album, Clear Heart Full Eyes, due out Jan. 24. We also tried to be equally good guests, bringing over a couple of six packs to put in the fridge. The night ended up being predictably massive.
“Jackson” is the latest in a long line of memorable story songs from the Hold Steady singer, telling a noirish tale about a trio of misbegotten friends who end up holed up in a hotel room from August to November. Finn never quite spells out what happens in “Jackson,” but it doesn’t appear to be good, as the song is delivered without any of the optimism that The Hold Steady is known for. The stripped-down acoustic version here is pretty different from the studio track, which like the rest of Clear Heart Full Eyes was recorded in Austin this past summer with producer Mike McCarthy. But the stark performance, which took place in Finn’s kitchen, does this haunted song justice.
Finn wrote all of his new album, along with dozens of other songs, in the apartment where we interviewed him. He challenged himself to write a song a day, which initially proved to be a big challenge as Finn worked outside the confines of a band. But McCarthy had some good advice: “If you can sing the song for me over the phone, you have a song.” Clear Heart Full Eyes is a strong debut solo effort that stands apart from the rowdier Hold Steady sound. On record, “Jackson” is a swampy, slowly creeping affair outfitted with synths and steel guitars, which suits the dread embedded in the lyrics. Luckily, that feeling is there in the live version of “Jackson” as well.