The Hold Steady
First Appeared in The Music Box, May 2005, Volume 12, #5
Written by T.J. Simon
On Separation Sunday, The Hold Steadyís Craig Finn reprises his musical persona as a loudmouth at the end of the bar telling a cautionary story from the fast-living world of parties and indie rock. On this new concept album, not much has changed from the bandís debut Almost Killed Me, which proved to be one of the most unlikely critical favorites of 2004.
Separation Sunday tells the story of Holly (short for Hallelujah), a Massachusetts girl raised by a religious family who has fallen into a life of sex, drugs, and rock ínĎ roll. She finds herself in suburban Minneapolis living in a group house and partying way too hard. As Finn recounts the story in his inebriated voice, Hollyís drug habit spins out of control, and she finds herself surrounded by a rogueís gallery of losers and users. During a druggy road trip into the deserts of the American West, Holly stumbles into an afternoon folk mass, becomes a born-again Christian, and kicks her habit. The story ends with Holly testifying before an Easter service while realizing how easy it would be for her to return to her addictive life.
Many of the same musical elements from Almost Killed Me return on Separation Sunday, and the most notable of these are the killer hard rock guitar licks Š la AC/DC that are embedded within epic compositions worthy of Bruce Springsteenís E Street Band. However, itís guitarist Tad Kublerís anthem-rousing solos that make The Hold Steady a great rock band and not just a vehicle for a maniacal Finn to shout his cloudy recollections into a microphone. Check out Multitude of Casualties and Stevie Nix as examples of Kublerís guitar virtuosity. Further developing the bandís sound is the smattering of piano that adorns tracks, such as Chicago Seemed Tired Last Night and the more subdued Donít Let Me Explode. Female backing singers also surface on Banging Camp and Your Little Hoodrat Friend.
Once again, the real star of the show is Finnís ability to weave a story full of vivid characterizations and clever turns of phrase. His vocal delivery has improved, and he actually sings more than he rants. Yet, despite the thematic flow of Separation Sunday, Finn never clarifies his position regarding religious faith as a transformative tool. Even so, its cautionary tale of drugs-laden parties parallels nicely with the similar story told on Almost Killed Me, and together they make companion pieces. However, it would be interesting to hear The Hold Steady explore some new thematic ground on future releases.
Of Further Interest...
Separation Sunday is available from
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2005 The Music Box