I too have found that contrast adjustments can be a real distraction.
I fact I've started going back to some old negatives and printing them darker at grade 2 (no filtration) and have been pleasantly surprised.
It hasn't worked in every case but for a high percentage of shots a significant improvement was available.
I been trying to figure out why my subject in a darker photo can look "brighter". My working theory right now is that B&W is an abstract medium and that stronger/more black (less shadow detail) provides a better foundation for our eyes/brain to see the midtones and highlights.
Placing say a skin tone at a specific brightness on paper doesn't seem to be as important as getting a good visual foundation (within certain limits). Like walking into a darker room my eyes just seem to adjust to many darker prints.
This seems to be born out by the works of Karsh and Hurrell that I've seen.