Singer-songwriter Dan Willson (stage name Withered Hand) and The Hold Steady are similar in quite a few ways. Willson was raised a Jehovah’s Witness while The Hold Steady’s Craig Finn was raised Catholic and in both cases, spirituality and religion are recurring themes in their lyrics. They also write catchy tunes, complete with “oh”s and “la”s, to go along with their masterful lyricism.
The sounds are different, though. Willson keeps his music slow and quiet, while The Hold Steady is all about big sounds, even when it comes to their ballads.
Both Withered Hand’s “New Gods” and The Hold Steady’s “Teeth Dreams” were released on March 25, which is so far the best day for album releases this year.
Withered Hand: “New Gods” (Slumberland/Fortuna Pop) Withered Hand is the stage name of Scottish singer-songwriter Dan Willson, whose splendid 2009 debut “Good News” introduced him as a quiet vocalist with melodic chops and a way with words. If this sophomore album doesn’t quite exceed that debut, it at least expands upon it. It’s more produced, with the added production complimenting
Willson’s talents rather than taking attention away from them. The horns in the beautiful “Between
True Love and Ruin” complement its already-existing “Into the Mystic” vibe, the upbeat “Heart Heart” – originally released in 2012 and one of my favorite songs of that year – proves he can rock and “Fall Apart” shows he can appeal to the indie kids when he wants to. Grade: A MINUS
The Hold Steady: “Teeth Dreams” (Washington Square) On their early albums, they were never really growers. The band’s huge Springsteen-influenced sound and Craig Finn’s literary lyrics would hopefully hit you right away, or the band could pass you by entirely. Now, they’ve recorded an album with a tremendous amount of subtlety, full of memorable songs that require time to fully absorb. At first, you might think that the album lacks anthems, but what would you call “Spinners?” This is in no way on the level of “Separation Sunday” or “Boys and Girls in America,” but I’m glad that it exists. For a band that hit their peak nearly a decade ago, that says a lot. Grade: A MINUS