In Mother Night, Kurt Vonnegut coined the term “a nation of two” to describe that stage of love in which a couple seems to be creating their own self-contained world, with its own language and culture. In Franz Nicolay’s haunted and redemptive new album Luck & Courage (on CD/Digital on decor records), he expands the idea and writes the history of the rise and fall of one such country, one inhabited by the titular characters Felix & Adelita – in Latin and Spanish, luck & courage. The music follows their tale running from lovely alt country banjo & pedal steel drenched tunes to full on horn & string driven numbers.
“They’re untethered,” Nicolay says of the protagonists. “She’s a sometime bartender, he’s been in the service, he’s a little violent and she’s a little distant; they don’t really live in any one place – and they’ve accustomed themselves, at some point, to the idea that ultimately their lives are going to be their own responsibility, so that when they find themselves together, almost against their will, their nation of two is doomed before it even begins. Its a battle between the pull of domesticity and the habit of packing up and moving on. And so their story, and the story of their nation of two, becomes the story of a plague-ridden, Cormac McCarthyian country as its society collapses.”
FRANZ NICOLAY was a member of Brooklyn rockers The Hold Steady whom, he left at the end of last year and punk orchestra World/Inferno Friendship Society. In 2009, he released his solo debut Major General (decor records – home of Richmond Fontaine, Mark Eitzel, Chuck Prophet) and in early 2010 the short-story collection Complicated Gardening Techniques (Julius Singer Press). He made Luck & Courage in Brooklyn in two weeks in spring 2010, with producer Jim Keller (Willie Nelson, Franz Ferdinand). After completing the new album, he spent the past summer as a touring member of agit-punk band Against Me!.
The band on Luck & Courage is Brian Viglione (The Dresden Dolls) drums, Yula Be’eri (World/Inferno Friendship Society) on bass and Maria Sonevytsky (The Debutante Hour) on piano. Other guests on the record include Mark Spencer (Son Volt) on pedal steel. Nicolay has been hailed as a charismatic “born performer,” “a storyteller and entertainer in the cabaret and vaudevillian tradition,” and he’ll be touring Europe early in the new year. From the stoic pathos of “This Is Not A Pipe” and the small-town grotesque of “My Criminal Uncle” to the ferocious noir of “Have Mercy” and the tender marriage ballad “The Last Words of Gene Autry,” Luck & Courage marks his arrival as an aphoristic and heart-wrenching songwriter to be reckoned with.
“”Eclectic and ambitious but unshowy, Major General is about as satisfying as any solo effort from a member of an established band still killing it themselves as I can think of…Major General hits some massive highs and nary a single crushing low. Nicolay’s skill at playing punk sage on one song and slightly troubled troubadour on the next is really something special. 7.3/10″ – Pitchfork
“The Hold Steady keyboardist Franz Nicolay is best known for his classic boogie piano lines, jubilant backing vocals and sharply curving mustache, but his new solo album Major General looks to catapult him to star status.” – Rolling Stone
“His first solo album exudes a suitably exuberant self-confidence. Few projects have as much character as the witty and full-hearted Major General.” – UNCUT, 4-stars Debut Album of the Month
“Recasting the windswept folk artist as someone with piratical swagger, he comes over like Nick Cave leading an American Pogues, and every see-saw rhythm is shot through with a potent, whisky-drenched drama” – Q
“A a cinematically scaled opera of open-heartedly big ballads, wayward Gypsy troubadour tales and hilariously scabrous sermons about the importance of living large in these crampingly caution-strewn times.” – LA Weekly
“Nicolay’s persona as storyteller is something between Peter Hammill with a Mohawk and ’70s-era Tom Waits. Like those master songsmiths, Nicolay serves it up hot, no matter what musical milieu is on the menu.” – Alternative Press
“If you’ve ever seen Franz Nicolay perform with any of the handful of bands he’s a part of, chances are you’ve fallen in love with his delightful mustachioed smile, voluptuous sideburns, skilled musicianship… Well, now there’s a new reason to love Franz Nicolay: his songwriting…Franz Nicolay never ceases to delight with his wonderful multi-instrumental compositions, veteran musicianship and engaging insight.” – Punknews.org