Craig Finn: Clear Heart Full Eyes

In five stellar LPs as the word-spluttering frontman for the Hold Steady, Craig Finn proved that nobody can match his ear for the way American losers talk. And in a Finn song, they're usually talking themselves into their next doomed move. Cut with a country-rock pickup band, his first solo album is full of bleakly funny noir tales. His characters are like the psycho-eyes loners from On the Beach or Nebraska, except strung out on religion. Finn's gotten canny enough as a singer to pull off a tour de force like "Western Pier," the chilling ballad of a drifter with grudges against the world that not even Jesus can avenge.

Listen to "Western Pier":

The Hold Steady's Craig Finn on Obama and Depression
Video: The Hold Steady's Craig Finn Plays Acoustic at Rolling Stone Live