CD Reviews: Craig Finn, Tim McGraw, Seal and more
'Clear Heart, Full Eyes'
For his solo debut, Craig Finn of the Hold Steady takes a pause from championing the down-and-out heroes of the nation's mealy middle to slow down and focus on what got them there in the first place. "All my days stretch out before me/And my nights just go to hell" he sings on opener "Apollo Bay," marking with minor-key uneasiness the mundane sacrifice of every second wasted. Though Hold Steady fans will be happy to know this exercise in songwriting solitude was simple experimentation on Finn's part, they should find much to embrace here.
Cate Le Bon
Wales is an odd place, and reliably gives rise to satisfyingly iconoclastic musicians, from crooning sex-dinosaur Tom Jones to the spate of late-'90s alternative acts like Gorky's Zygotic Mynci and Super Furry Animals, which combined psych pop with Welsh culture in strange, welcome fashions. Cardiff's own Cate Le Bon feels like the natural progression here (and indeed was mentored by Gruff Rhys of SFA), a singer of pure voice in the Feist/ St. Vincent vein who could hold sway with her high, classical croon, but chooses instead to undercut her sweetness with corrosive indie-rock elements. Her free-spirited sophomore release is a quiet triumph of influences that sequences Velvet Underground-style laconicism, Stereolab's analog reverence, and Pavement at its most pastoral, all fractured and filtered through Le Bon's unerring sensibilities.
Let's get the logistics behind Tim McGraw's "Emotional Traffic" out of the way: It's the final album for his longtime label, delayed while a Nashville court decided whether it fulfilled his contract. In November, the court sided with McGraw, and so the album - which may have been ready as early as two years ago - can now be released. The strain shows. While McGraw is usually savvy about picking material and shrewd about targeting a sound for his albums, "Emotional Traffic" feels cobbled together, with songs of uneven quality and wide-ranging styles. But the singles - "Felt Good on My Lips" and "Better Than I Used to Be" - are still top-notch. To his credit, even when he's not trying all that hard, McGraw still manages to sound pretty good most of the time.
The long-awaited sophomore album from the Brooklyn indie group responsible for the earworm "Bruises."
So now that it's official that he and Heidi Klum have split, it definitely can't hurt to pad the bank account with a return trip to the platinum-selling well of classic soul covers.