I'll admit, I never really understood the whole Hold Steady hubbub until I heard the new record, Stay Positive.
I love all kinds of rock 'n' roll, but bar rock takes a while to earworm itself into my playlist. That being said, Stay Positive is a pretty instant hit. It's unfancy rock that moves, as Rob Sheffield recently pointed out in Blender, "from Joe Strummer to Joe Walsh." And that's a good thing. (Sheffield's piece is a smart take on the band too, comparing the Hold Steady to LCD Soundsystem, as both acts take from the '90s -- albeit in different genres --and explore "a bunch of friends, trying to hold their lives together when the music they share falls apart.")
Anyway, there's a lot of guitar soloing and piano melodies and Craig Finn's gruff vocals making poignant observations about life in the Midwest and small towns around the country. My favorite track on the record is the title track -- as cheeseball a summer anthem as "Stay Positive" sounds, it's a pretty unironic celebration of keeping your love of an aging music scene intact. The label's only offering "Sequestered In Memphis" for streaming, but that's a pretty darn good song too (love the lyrics "In bar light, she looked alright/In day light, she looked desperate.") It's a pretty perfect feel-good, ready for the weekend song -- even though everything doesn't work out alright. The Hold Steady comes to the Mezzanine Tuesday, July 29. -- Jennifer Maerz