Franz Nicolay: Luck & Courage

Franz Nicolay: Luck & Courage
Franz Nicolay‘s resume is pretty damn impressive. He is perhaps best known for his work as keyboardist for The Hold Steady or as the accordion player for The World/Inferno Friendship Society. In addition to that work, his resume also boasts stints with Anti-Social Music and Guignol. He has also guested on records by bands like Leftöver Crack, The Loved Ones, The Living End, and Mirah. But with all the guest appearances and side-man gigs, Franz Nicolay has rarely been in the spotlight; Luck & Courage is only Franz’ second official solo album.
With Franz’ diverse resume, I was a bit baffled as to what I was getting into when popping in the CD. The first track on the album, “Felix & Adelita” starts off with Franz singing storyteller lyrics over held out organ notes. It is hard not to immediately draw comparisons to The Hold Steady. The track moves on a bit more of an Americana route than the Hold Steady. The track features sparse drums and light banjo. Franz gives the track his best Craig Finn impression but ends up sounding closer to a crooning version of The Mountain Goats.
Surprisingly, a lot of the album’s music resides in the space between The Hold Steady’s version of indie rock and traditional Americana. There is another group of songs on the album that utilize brass. Those songs are particularly good, just to mix up the sound. “My Criminal Uncle” utilizes horns in an opening fanfare but the songs beat reminds me of The Hold Steady’s “Cattle And The Creeping Things”. Although the song is in a major key, unlike “Cattle”, the tracks beat and Franz’ singing method is a little more aping the Hold Steady.
Although, I was a little disappointed musically with the album, Franz does impress on the lyrical side of the coin. Lyrical my favorite song is “Anchorage (New Moon Baby)”. On the track Franz sings such illuminating lyrics as “I sat and watched the diving birds fish the placid bay in Charleston/Asked a young guy in the street where you drink if you look like me/There’s not too many on the street with five days’ beard in Charleston/But you can buy a vodka that tastes just like sweat tea”. The non-inane rhyme scheme and above average lyrical imagery makes the album what it is.
I try not to come into any album with preconceived notions, but Franz is one of my favorite sidemen of all time so I had some expectations. Being familiar with his gypsy-punk side, I had expected the album to lean more in that direction. The album’s Americana indie rock just did not move me on first listen, but repeated listens and focusing more on Franz’s lyrics did open up the album for me. He is a damn good lyricist writer and hopefully as he removes himself from his time with the Hold Steady, he will develop a more unique style.
Rating: 6.3/10
MP3: Franz Nicolay “Anchorage (New Moon Baby)”
Buy: iTunes