Okay, so Craig Finn has basically become a spoken-word artist. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Let me say that another way: There’s nothing wrong with Craig Finn’s latest solo album. More to the point: It’s really, really good.

Really good. Better than anything I’ve heard from him solo–or with his band The Hold Steady–in a long, long time.

What makes it so much better?

Well, a lot of it is the balance shift. He’s still doing his long-form character studies, told hi his instantly recognizable voice and sly delivery, but there’s also much more music to them. I mean, his stuff always has music, but some of what’s on A Legacy of Rentals is closer to being songs than stories, where his work usually comes out the other way. For me, that’s made it harder to listen all the way through. Finn’s poetry is thick and intense, and it’s got juicy one-liners that need time to digest. When it’s all stacked together, leading the album, it can get exhausting. Here, he’s letting us enjoy tunes so that when the mind drifts–which it always will when listening to a gifted orator and lyricist–we can find our way back.

This is Finn’s sixth solo work, and it features a 14-piece string session behind him. So his picturesque tales are backed with music that can match the complexity. It feels fuller and more expansive. Yes, it’s still very Springsteenesque, but amid the bar stories and descriptions of weirdly fascinating people there are moments of powerful beauty.

Standout tracks: The Year We Fell Behind, Jessamine, and Due to Depart (which has an amazing chorus).

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