The Hold Steady & Opinions on Bruce Springsteen and Andrew Bird

With their rock anthems and literary lyrics, The Hold Steady are often thought of as "the best bar band in America." Tune in to hear them out of the bar and in our studio with a conversation and live performance. Plus, Jim and Greg review new albums from Bruce Springsteen and Andrew Bird.

The Hold Steady
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A number of free agents are popping up in 2009 including 50 Cent, Beck, Ryan Adams, Pearl Jam and Metallica. These music heavyweights have been on label rosters for years, but now, following in the footsteps of bands like Radiohead, it appears they have a shot at going out on their own. Jim and Greg agree that none of these artists actually need a record label. But, Greg points out that many might be tempted by 360 deals similar to what Madonna and Jay-Z have with Live Nation. The money's not in record sales anymore, so if major labels can entice an artist with the promise of profits from touring and merchandise, we may not see as much independence.

The Hold Steady

Jim and Greg welcome The Hold Steady this week. The Minneapolis born, Brooklyn bred band are on tour to promote their 2008 album Stay Positive. Our hosts talk to lead singer Craig Finn, guitarist Tad Kubler and keyboardist & accordionist Franz Nicolay about their "meat and potatoes" style of rock and roll. Greg notes that comparisons are often made to Bruce Springsteen, but the band also cites Nick Cave and Bob Dylan as influences. Jim explains to the band that he was not immediately a Hold Steady fan, and was only converted after seeing them live. Craig, Tad and Franz explain that they are happy to convert him. That, of course, is the power of rock.

Working on a Dream Bruce Springsteen

Working On a Dream

Bruce Springsteen has released his 16th album called Working on a Dream. Debates about The Boss are notorious on Sound Opinions, but with each new album the slate is wiped clean. So has this record made Jim a convert? Not exactly. He hates the half of the album that contains one warm and fuzzy, inspirational song after the next. And he hates the other half, full of monumentally failed experiments, even more. Jim gives Bruce a Trash It, and that's no surprise to our listeners. What is a surprise is Greg's take. He is, for the most part, a Springsteen appreciator. But, he isn't hearing great songwriting on Working on a Dream. Musically, it's okay, but lyrically, it's disappointing. Greg gives the album a Try It.

Noble Beast Andrew Bird

Noble Beast

The next album up for review is by fellow American songwriter Andrew Bird. Bird has a new album out called Noble Beast. In addition to writing songs, Bird tackles singing, violin playing and even whistling–an odd, but winning combo that has brought the musician flocks of fans. Greg thinks this fifth album has a more mainstream-friendly sound because of its strong melodies. But, he has a problem with the loss of momentum at the end of the album. For Greg, Bird lost steam by the last third, so he can only give Noble Beast a Try It. Jim can't even go that far. He was bothered by the obtuse wordiness of the lyrics, and couldn't locate any emotional core in the songs. Jim gives Andrew Bird's release a Trash It.

Dear Listeners,

For more than 15 years, Sound Opinions was a production of WBEZ, Chicago's public radio station. Now that the show is independent, we're inviting you to join the band and lend a hand! We need your support more than ever because now we have to do all the behind-the-scenes work that WBEZ handled before (like buying insurance and paying for podcast hosting, ugh). Plus, we have some exciting ideas we'd like to try now that there's no one to tell us no!