Could it be that after all those years in Soul Asylum, Dave Pirner has been harboring a secret desire to become a soul man? Actually, it may not be that deep a secret, since his band once recorded a cover of Marvin Gaye's "Sexual Healing," but Pirner's first solo album, Faces & Names, comes as something of a surprise from the frontman of the group formerly known as Loud Fast Rules. Anyone expecting Soul Asylum's punk-accented hard rock should be warned: Faces & Names is dominated by laid-back but committed R&B grooves, while Dave Pirner's vocals display a subtlety and nuance that was often muted by Dan Murphy's guitar work. Just as Grave Dancer's Union and Let Your Dim Light Shine found Pirner writing about more personal and topical themes, Faces & Names has a significantly higher soul-bearing quotient than his previous work, and while songs like "Start Treating People Right," "Teach Me to Breathe," and the title cut quite obviously wear their hearts on their sleeves, there's something genuine and even moving in his lyrics, and given his more refined delivery here, his more politically themed material doesn't sound as if he's hectoring. And while Faces & Names lacks the same physical power as Soul Asylum's best work, the best songs here manage to sound comfortable, magnetic, and passionate all at once; Pirner has made an album that he doubtless couldn't have made within the boundaries of Soul Asylum, and it proves he has a some tricks up his sleeve than one might have expected from his work in the past. Maybe it's not the quiet storm album Pirner was dreaming of, but Faces & Names shows the guy does know how to get his groove on, which you might not have guessed from, say, "Misery."
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming