Sometimes great songs that seem like potential album stand-outs get left off the record altogether, and see release instead as overlooked bonus tracks. Craig Finn’s “Three Drinks” is one of them.
The Hold Steady singer’s recent solo album “Faith in the Future” isn’t lacking for memorable songs (I reviewed it for Paste). In an interview for this story in The Wall Street Journal, Finn described the album to me as “different sketches of different characters” outside the Hold Steady’s narrative orbit, and “Maggie I’ve Been Searching for Our Son,” “Newmyer’s Roof” and “Trapper Avenue” are full of the keenly observed details and conversational turns of phrase that have made Finn one of rock’s most literate, pungent writers.
“Three Drinks” is just as strong. Given away on the “Newmyer’s Roof” EP to fans who pre-ordered “Faith in the Future” through PledgeMusic, the song pairs a subtle, pulsing bassline with a laconic acoustic guitar lick as Finn creates a knowing image of a woman who navigates life by proffering enough bullshit that she’s come to believe it herself. “There was bloodsucker blues in the lobby at dusk./ She blew smoke in my face and it felt like a bus,” Finn sings. A few lines later, his narrator describes a trip with the woman, ending on a note of droll understatement: “She was quick on the uptake and slow on the train./ The conductor roused us awake on the plains./ We got off in Katonah because she thought it was Spain./ She handled disappointment pretty well.”
(The only version of the song I was able to find online is this live performance in Kansas City, and while Finn’s voice is sometimes muffled by the instruments, it’s enough to give a sense of the song.) UPDATE: Someone posted the studio version! Here’s hoping it sees wider release someday — it’s certainly deserving.