Will Craig Finn take the troubadour title from John Darnielle? 

click to enlarge The Mountain Goats, In League With Dragons (Merge)
  • The Mountain Goats, In League With Dragons (Merge)

In 28 albums over as many years with his band The Mountain Goats, John Darnielle has perfected the voice of the traveling, world-weary observer of human foibles. In fact, he has dissected dysfunction so utterly, he has chosen in recent works to focus on personal interests — professional wrestling, teen Goth culture, and in the new Mountain Goats album In League With Dragons (Merge), role-playing games and “dragon noir.” These are complex beasts in both lyrics and arrangements, and songs like “An Antidote for Strychnine” seem far removed from Dungeons & Dragons. Still, the songs can suffer from complexity.

Here’s where Craig Finn steps up with I Need a New War (Partisan Records). After easing off on new releases with his band The Hold Steady, Finn released three solo storytelling albums, and this new one offers perhaps even more gut punches than 2017’s We All Want the Same Things. The stark imagery in the title track and “Blankets” can bring tears to the most jaded of eyes. If there’s a limit here, Finn has added a horn section and background vocals that often do more to detract than enlighten. Then again, songwriters have been favoring overproduction lately. Bruce Springsteen says his new studio album coming in June will feature “sweeping orchestral arrangements” — could be bad for the bard, Bruce!


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