IN MY HEAD, swimming around with all those other delusional thoughts of indie-rock minutia, Eric Bachmann (of Crooked Fingers, and formerly of Archers of Loaf) lives in a mansion somewhere; feet confidently perched on a mahogany desk while he counts his large stacks of indie-rock royalties. Instead, as it turns out, Bachmann has recently been without a place to stay and has been living alone in his van. This isn't like the Starbucksian folklore of Jewel, who might or might not have been living in a van in her early days—this is real—and it's heartbreakingly sad to me.

How can this man, with his sandpapered voice and penchant for writing some of the most tender and sad songs of the past decade, be regulated to living a life akin to the Chris Farley SNL "van down by the river" sketch? Thankfully a little research discovered that Bachmann's temporary homelessness has more to do with a lack of housing (after tour) and his desire to just be alone and record by himself. But still, that hurts. Aren't top-tiered musicians supposed to go to five-star resorts in Taos when they need to be alone?

The result of his van-living is To the Races, recorded in a hotel near Buxton, NC (I guess that's better than a van), an album that is bare-boned and, at times, can be both tenderly sweet and difficult to digest. Never one to sugarcoat the aftermath of a love gone wrong, or the sweet allure of the bottle, Bachmann gets through it all by himself, and in the process, he sounds bigger than ever. While the Neil Diamond bravado of the last few Crooked Fingers albums is long gone, Bachmann still comes off like that drunken uncle you always wanted to have—slipping you nips of whiskey through a sipper cup, and buying you that first six-pack on your 13th birthday.

In all, it's what you expect (and want) from a man who once sang of chumming the ocean or fetching a new drink for the old drunk. Now Bachmann, housing be damned, is more free than ever, proving that the walls of his previous bands, or possibly those of a home, were just holding him back.