While his regular gig is as keyboardist for the Hold Steady, Franz Nicolay makes a compelling case for his work as a solo act on Major General. ”This World is an Open Door” and “Quiet Where I Lie” provide a badly needed update to the Springsteen model of arena rock. He’s brash and occasionally profane on “Confessions of a Failed Casanova,” leading a high-octane band through spirited choruses. “Hey Dad” incorporates banjo and Hammond organ into the proceedings, unveiling a more multi-faceted arranging style.
Although the energetic rockers are stirring, it’s also nice to hear Nicolay forge different musical pathways. A case in point is “Do we Not Live in Dreams,” where, accompanied by a swinging clarinet solo, he adopts a breezy, jazz pop style a lá Mose Allison (although, ironically, with guitar as the comping instrument instead of piano). Like Billy Joel, he’s able to channel Chopinesque piano textures into a rock context, demonstrating this to good effect on the emotive “Dead Sailors.” Nicolay is as talented as he is versatile.