Leading the Hold Steady, Craig Finn is a black-rim bespectacled Springsteen, driving home his poignantly detailed yet melodically monochrome song-stories through the grand force of his band’s exuberant camaraderie. But for his solo debut, this New Yorker went to Austin, Texas, and let producer Mike McCarthy pick strangers to perform material that Finn calls “a little quieter and perhaps more narrative.’’ The surprise of this country-tinged studio rock is how deftly the songs’ subtle musical variety enhances the equally subtle variety of the lyrics. Some portraits of loners are neat vignettes, like the stunner in which, “I looked up to see the moon/ And I saw you and him out on the balcony.’’ The vague menace of “Western Pier’’ is grounded by the music’s understated prettiness. And the rollicking “Honolulu Blues’’ encapsulates Finn’s compassion in a refrain: “We’re all good, we’re all bad/ We’re euphoric and we’re sad/ We roll the rock away and check the tomb.’’ (Out today)
ESSENTIAL “Balcony’’Craig Finn performs at Great Scott on Feb. 28.