Urgent and vivid storytelling by Franz Nicolay on new LP, 'Luck and Courage'

There’s often an urgent electricity to Franz Nicolay’s music, as if he’s scribbling down observations just before, just after or sometimes even right in the midst of portentous events. It was there on his solo debut, “Major General,” and it’s there on the follow-up, “Luck and Courage” (Team Science Records).

The former Hold Steady keyboard player (and member of World/Inferno Friendship Society) has said the songs on “Luck and Courage” were inspired by albums by Lyle Lovett and 16 Horsepower, which certainly spans the Americana canon. Regardless of its influences, “Luck and Courage” sounds unmistakably like Nicolay.

His rich tenor overlays arrangements mixing piano, banjo, pedal steel, horns, organ and lord knows what else, for a sound that can veer from busy and baroque (“Z for Zachariah”) to spare, powerfully elegiac sighs (“The Last Words of Gene Autry”).

Nicolay sounds like he’s engaging in an epic bout of denial on “This is Not a Pipe,” singing mournful harmonies over steady banjo and faint swells of pedal steel, while “Have Mercy” takes on an air of uneasy menace, Nicolay singing terse vocals as violin wends its way through a roaring guitar part.

Engaging as the music is, his vivid, empathetic storytelling is an even bigger draw. Taken together, they make these songs an inviting place in which to get lost.

— Text by Eric R. Danton, photo by Miles Kerr

Have Mercy mp3

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