This one comes to us from new Mockingbird writer, Luke Wilson. 

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You either love or hate The Hold Steady. From Craig Finn’s voice, which sounds like a mix between Paul Westerberg and an IT technician at a karaoke bar, to lead guitarist Tad Kubler’s unapologetically massive riffs, they leave little room for middle ground.

I, for one, love The Hold Steady, but for those who have set up camp on the other side of the river (and for THS fans alike), I recommend you head on over to your local record store (or Spotify if you must!) and pick up a copy of Craig Finn’s latest solo effort, Faith in the Future.

Produced by Josh Kaufman (The National, Josh Ritter) and recorded at The Isokon studio in Woodstock, Faith is dramatically different from Finn’s work with The Hold Steady. Like his solo debut, Clear Heart Full Eyes, but in a less countrified manner, Faith is a comparatively subtle and eloquent record.

That said, Faith marks a continuation of the character-driven songwriting present in most of Finn’s previous work with a new crop of down and outers experiencing less dramatic, but very real suffering in an all too often depraved world. The bleak portrait of humanity that Finn paints for his listeners has lead some critics to consider the album title a misnomer, but this darkness, for Finn, is only the starting point of an album that explores, through these fractured and flailing characters, moments of grace amidst the darkness that just might renew our faith and hope in what the future might hold.  

In the standout opening track, “Maggie I’ve Been Searching for Our Son,” the narrator is grappling for meaning in a world filled with seemingly absurd tragedy: “Hey, pick up the paper/ See the stories and the pictures/ A kid went to the movies with a gun.” Amidst the chaos and confusion, however, the search for meaning continues and the possibility of hope remains:

“If you’re down and out/ If you still have any doubts/ If you doubt that there’s a savior yet to come/ Stop what you are doing/ Close your eyes and keep on breathing/ And slowly turn your face up to the sun.”

The more subtle, piano-driven sing-along “Going to a Show” lets the listener inside the head of an aging concert-goer looking for the rock n’ roll magic that becomes more elusive with each passing day, yet he returns to the club night after night with the hope that the show will be a “new frontier,” which it sometimes is.

The album’s undeniable centerpiece, and in my opinion Finn’s best work as a solo artist, is his autobiographical account of watching the Twin Towers fall in “Newmyer’s Roof.” For those who were driven to the edge of sanity by the depth of musical garbage that came out in reaction to 9/11, fear not. Newmyer’s Roof is a sober reflection, written fourteen years after the fact, on how people cope and move forward and remain hopeful after a senseless tragedy. Before the album’s release, Finn wrote a letter to NPR about the inspiration for Newmyer’s Roof, and it is too poignant and beautiful not to include in its entirety:

I moved to NYC on Sept. 15, 2000.

Just less than a year later came the terrible events of Sept. 11, 2001. I was working at an office in Union Square and my friend and boss Chris Newmyer suggested we come to his apartment on 2nd Avenue in the East Village. We could see the towers from the roof he said.

We went up there and saw the towers burn and then collapse. At some point he suggested we get some beer. I didn’t know what to feel that day, most of us had no emotion to access. So we got some beer, and drank them while watching the World Trade Center go down. It sounds detached now, but at the time it made sense on a day when nothing else made sense. I spent some years after that in darkness.

There was a girl in the 33rd floor of one of the towers that was a receptionist at an investment bank. She went to work that day and when the plane hit they asked her to stay where she was. They said it was safest. She decided against that and walked out of the towers and, like the rest of us, did her best to get on with her life.

Some years later I went to a birthday party. I talked to this girl. We talked all night. We fell in love and are still together. I came out of the darkness. I’m glad she didn’t do what they told her to do.

“Newmyer’s Roof” isn’t about this exactly. It’s a song about believing that something better is coming. It’s a song about light after darkness. It’s about Faith in the Future.