SOUND ‘ROUND: A working class hero is something to sing about

BY JON R. LaFOLLETTE

MATT NORTH — ABOVE GROUND FOOLS (MATTNORTH.NET)

{{tncms-inline alignment=”right” content=”<p><strong>A+</strong> Rare masterwork</p> <p><strong>A</strong> Near flawless</p> <p><strong>A-</strong> Run-of-the-mill good</p> <p><strong>B+</strong> Flawed but notable</p>” id=”672406ea-c0d0-4112-badf-ac572014c180″ style-type=”info” title=”THE GRADES” type=”relcontent” width=”half”}}

He dresses like Nick Cave and possesses an unremarkable tenor that resembles Stevie Ray Vaughn. He’s a drummer at heart that took up guitar and hired a crew of seasoned pros to spruce up these 10 songs. He was born in Michigan, raised in Illinois and wound up in Nashville because it’s one of the few places left where a white middle-aged singer-songwriter can find work. The music, instantaneous and punchy, is refreshing for its relaxed nature. He’s too old to strain for grandiosity and too addicted to old time rock n’ roll to adhere to any other formula: Big guitars, bigger drums and spirited vocals up front. Not sold, you say? Too conventional, you complain? What’s the secret, you ask? Simply put, ebullient lyricism that refuses quit. From the ex-lover he’s got no hard feelings for, the ex-wife who acquires an obsession for murder shows, or the quaint idiosyncrasies associated with life in the land of Jesus and fireworks, every vignette comes with a worthy couplet and endearing realism. Nothing’s more real than “I Sold It All,” in which he hocks his earthly possessions to get out of a jam. Spoken like an unashamed careerist who knows firsthand the struggle to make ends meet. GRADE: A-

Key Tracks: “No Hard Feelings” / “I Sold It All” / “Seventeen Days”

A BOY AMONG MEN

Matt North grew up in the Midwest but tried to cut his teeth in the music business in California. He played around the Bay Area while attending college and hustled in Los Angeles for several years before relocating to Nashville in 2010. The move proved advantageous for North in one regard. “Turning 40 in L.A. I was an older drummer,” he said in a news release. “But the Nashville musicians doing what I want to do are in the 50s and 60s. So somehow at 45, I’m a young drummer again.”

CRAIG FINN — WE ALL WANT THE SAME THINGS (PARTISAN)

The entirety of Finn’s musical career centers on lowlifes, be it his main gig fronting The Hold Steady or his more tranquil solo work. He grew up in a small Minnesota town and his character studies come from that place of little people sussing out life’s great dilemmas. Here his vignettes deal with tragicomedy and just plain ol’ tragedy. There’s the cash-strapped starlet who swindles a love-struck millionaire of his last penny (“Tangletown”), and there’s the sister who sells back the leftover stash of heroin that killed her brother (“God in Chicago”). Regardless of the means or the method, each character is treated by Finn as a flesh and blood being with real emotions, dreams and fears. His capacity for empathy is so great, I’m sure a few of his subjects even vote Republican. He has no use for being autobiographical, but he’s lived enough and toured plenty to know a thing or two about recognizing how the other half struggle. Blame it on my disdain for bombast, or credit Finn for knowing when to play it cool, but this album tops anything The Hold Steady have done in years. Not every guitar-laden story has to come with bar-band gunk attached to it. Sometimes all you need is the human element. GRADE: A-

Key Tracks: “Birds Trapped in the Airport” / “Tangletown” / “Rescue Blues”

LOUD AND CLEAR

To promote “We All Want the Same Things,” Craig Finn played a handful of house shows for devoted fans. The events provided a better environment for the word-heavy Finn to debut new songs. “Going into a rock club, while there’s some awesomeness to a rock show, delivering lyrics is not probably the best part of it,” Finn told Salon.com. “So when people are hearing these songs before the album came out, I thought it was a way people could actually, you know, attach to the songs. That ended up being very much the case.”

Matt North on Spotify

Craig Finn on Spotify

Matt North on YouTube

Craig Finn on YouTube

A+ Rare masterwork

A Near flawless

A- Run-of-the-mill good

B+ Flawed but notable