Craig Finn has always had the potential to be the Bizarro World version of Bruce Springsteen, spinning tales of earnest heartland folks whose obsessions are loopy but sincere variations of the thematic triumvirate of fast cars, low-budget romance, and middle-class survival that has been the Boss' trademark for decades. Finn's melodies even conjure up an approximation of the melodramatic grandeur of Springsteen's music, though without the emphatic charge of the E-Street Band; if Springsteen's work is hi-def programming viewed on a 60-inch flat screen, Finn's is more like a slightly worn VHS tape viewed on a TV that was rescued from a junk shop, though there are shows that work better that way, seen through a prism of homey distortion. All these things come to mind while listening to Faith in the Future, the second solo album from the Hold Steady's frontman, which gives him more room to explore his themes as an enlightened bar-band troubadour, and if the noisy sideways guitar solos on "Maggie I've Been Searching for Our Son" and "Going to a Show," the clanking lockstep drums on "Roman Guitars," and the woozy slide guitar on "St. Peter Upside Down" wouldn't go over at an arena gig, the songs might do the trick anyway. Finn wrote this set of songs after the death of his mother, and while none of them deal with the notion of maternal loss, there's an undertow of grief and human consequence that runs through this material, such as the low-level drug abuse in "Sandra from Scranton" and "Going to a Show," the musician running on fumes in "Newmyer's Roof," the old friend whose life is in a shambles in "Sarah, Calling from a Hotel," and the self-explanatory agonies of "I Was Doing Fine (Then a Few People Died)." Finn's slightly craggy voice gives his characters the lived-in qualities they need, and Josh Kaufman's production gracefully walks the line between the straightforward and the slightly bent. At its best, Faith in the Future is a compelling and suitably individual study of the Darkness on the Edge of Some Other Town, where Finn has plenty of stories to share.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming