When Franz Nicolay left hyper-literate rockers The Hold Steady in January, he explained that it was to become “a vaudeville troubadour,” a banjo-plucking, tap-dancing dude able to “walk into a room of strangers and entertain them.” Then he spent most of the year touring with hyper-literate punkers Against Me! But he also made an album in that time, his second, in which he tosses the bits that distinguish those two bands from each other, and keeps only the connective tissue. Which means, unfortunately, that Luck And Courage is a hyper-literate album that lithely avoids both rocking and punking out. Fans hoping for some waxed-mustache melodrama of the Coney Island variety will be woefully disappointed: Nicolay has shelved his accordion in favor of shuffling folk and light classical instrumentation. He doesn’t wail so much as whisper with emphasis. He doesn’t tap-dance so much as waltz. And the lyrics are given far too little to compete with, so when a couplet like “She called him Felix, which meant lucky to her / He was a middle-distance runner, she didn't take him seriously” comes and goes, it has time to transition from quirky-cute to plain old precious. A few moments overcome all of this—the collision of squealing feedback and Charlie Daniels fiddlin’ on “Have Mercy,” and Nicolay’s creepy duet with Emily Hope Price on “Z For Zachariah”—but for the most part, the strangers aren’t entertained. They’re taking a nap.
More from The A.V. Club