Boys and Girls in America
Label: Vagrant Records
The Hold Steady's first two records of bare-knuckled bangers were lauded as dissertations on underdog bar rock, coupling Craig Finn's scrappy narratives about getting high and chasing tail with riffs on the scale of vintage Thin Lizzy. On their third, Finn reins in the rambling for more concise tales of spiritual survival in strip mall culture. When things get sentimental, as on the piano-driven "First Night," the songwriting is still commanding, but these guys are best with unrestrained rockers like "Stuck Between Stations" or "Hot Soft Light" -- with hearts on their sleeves and amps on 11.