Franz Nicolay – Luck and Courage

Franz Nicolay – Luck and Courage

When Franz Nicolay left The Hold Steady, he commented in an interview with Paste that, “They [The Hold Steady] have their one big idea – making literate, wordy lyrics over big anthemic rock – and the last two records were about as good as I felt like I could do with that idea.” Obviously honest and without any disdain in any sense, Nicolay was blunt in admitting that he wanted to explore new grounds and revelations. During his departure from the band, Nicolay was – amongst other activities –a touring member of Against Me! and has seemingly tried to break away from the ties that he at point, was established upon.

Surprising to most, Luck and Courage marks Nicolay’s now third solo album to date. His previous affair, Major General, was as some would call it “a solid rock album, from top to bottom” that eventually left much to be desired in terms of overall durability. It wasn’t the kind of album that would call out for repeated listens and in many ways, it definitely wasn’t the kind of album that would separate Nicolay away from The Hold Steady. Now, with a sound that has notably enhanced since that album, Luck and Courage – again, most likely surprising to most – also marks a period where Nicolay is writing longstanding, solid music.

A lot of the album’s warm tones come from the sheer use of a solid rhythm section. Nicolay would state that while Lyle Lovett’s I Love Everybody was an influence for the album’s soothing production, in terms of sounds this is surely not the kind of music that one would refer to as ‘bar rock.’ But finally, references to The Hold Steady aside, Nicolay showcases a cunning ability of song craft on many of the song’s turning paces. On “Job 35:10,” the soft strum of an acoustic guitar and subtle floor drum evoke a swell of tender moments. Nicolay sounds affectingly caring and with the addition of a timely string section, the mood is superbly crafted. The sequencing works wonders to the album’s unexpectedly great flow; “James Ensor Redeemed” plays off a creatively mysterious piano line and paired with the former, they ultimately portray a giftedly strong sound.

Although Nicolay prefers to be more direct than anything else (the cover and title being directly obvious and still, ironic), the music is endearing because of the genuine demeanor the musician fills his music with. With the banjo, accompanying female vocal and the lonely guitar twang, “This is Not a Pipe” sounds like the channeling of Drive-By Truckers and honestly, you can never go wrong with that. Nicolay is able to both attempt a new sound – on what is nothing more than a sincere country shuffle – and fairly do the style justice with a successfully strong amount of personality and skill.

And don’t be mistaken, there’s still pounding, fist-pumping moments (“My Criminal Uncle”) where we can still get a taste for those spirited piano rolls, except this time they sound even more polished and substantial than before. Together, there is a lot to fall back on and for Nicolay, a multitude of interesting directions to go from here. One thing’s for sure, Luck and Courage is a defining improvement for Nicolay and an album that will surely gain a new surge of fans with its compelling styles and sounds.

Team Science Records