SOMEWHERE SOUTH OF WONDER
It's appropriate to review these two together, since they were both released in the U.S. in 2005. They both appeared first in the UK (where the artist enjoys a large following), Somewhere South of Wonder in 2002 and Epinonymous in 2004. In late breaking news, the artist last week signed a deal with Warner/Carova to release Epinonymous with several bonus tracks, with a UK tour possible in September.
Although now living in Colorado, Jeff Finlin is one of the finest, most savvy tunesmiths to come out of Nashville in quite a few years. Although the Americanaists lay claim to him, we consider him much more pop than that. He's so good that it invites and indeed generates comparisons to a bizarrely wide field, with writers citing artists like Gary Myrick and Leon Redbone--easy, now... We've never compared anyone to him before, but we do hear a strong empathy between his music and that of Joe Henry's, especially if the latter had continued in his original direction. (Don't get me wrong, we're thrilled that JH went his jazzy and soulful way.) There is a sympathetic tonality in their work, and a lyrical mentality.
Jeff's lyrics are first string varsity material, it's what lands him in Cameron Crowe movies ("Sugar Blue" is in Elizabethtown) and on the iTunes celebrity playlist of Bruce Springsteen, who also includes him on the short list of tunes that play in the venue before the show. Just mentioning a few good titles tells the story: "The Long Lonesome Death of the Traveling Man," "Holes in My Hands," and "Delta Down."
In his Nashville years, Finlin (who, I believe, is a drummer first, but plays a number of instruments well and is a good front man to boot) was in a couple of very highly regarded bands, The Thieves, and Big Chief. The latter was signed to MCA but got boxed out in typical corporate horseplay. He has since made a string of great records, most or all available at his website.
Two noteworthy Nashville stars that illumine his particular genius are stringmeisters Will Kimbrough (who's out a long time with Rodney Crowell, now) and Pat Buchanan, who's interviewed in this issue. They all speak the same language.
The music includes elements of many styles, and it is not genre-concerned. What's pop are the production values, and the sounds, the arrangements, and the radio friendly quality throughout.
Things being what they are in America, it's small wonder that Finlin and others have found good followings in Europe and beyond. But with a major label release of the new record, watch for Jeff Finlin passing through your town in the foreseeable future. Very highly recommended. • FG