Jeff Finlin: Angels in Disguise

[8 May 2007]

By Jason MacNeil

Jeff Finlin is a singer-songwriter in perhaps the truest sense of the word. The resident of Fort Collins, Colorado, has done it the traditional way as well, not relying on any sort of gimmicks or gadgets to get his tunes across. I bet you haven’t even heard a Jeff Finlin ringtone yet, have you? See! Finlin’s latest album is an acquired taste, but one that fans of the likes of Steve Earle, Marah, Townes Van Zandt, and Tim Easton would lap up at a moment’s notice. And that is to say, it’s a damn fine piece of Americana.

Finlin’s delivery has a certain twang to it, but not enough to put the listener off. A perfect example of this is the leadoff tune “Better Than This”, which would give roots rockers like John Hiatt a run for their money. It’s a fine kickstarter, with all the right amounts of Americana sprinkled throughout the toe-tapper. And Hiatt’s domain can certainly be heard in the dazzling tune near the homestretch entitled “Break You Down”, which could have been found on Perfectly Good Guitar. Finlin talks about shotgun shacks and roadhouse prayers, but the tune is far more refined and balanced than anything you’d see from a roadhouse band. This leads quite nicely into that slightly tamer but just as enjoyable “American Dream #109”, which Finlin sort of speaks his way through early on before the chorus hits paydirt.

The singer can weave some pretty tunes throughout, showing yet another side to his strong songwriting with the rather tender, soulful “Bringing My Love”, which has some pretty harmonies. However, the song thrives thanks to the simple but stellar way Finlin has crafted the song, adding traces of pedal steel when it’s required, but not too much. Just as pretty is the Dylan-tinged “The Long Lonesome Death of the Traveling Man”. What makes it mesh, though, is the fact that it’s not early Dylan, but more along the lines of Time Out of Mind and a song like “Not Dark Yet”. It’s not up-tempo but doesn’t have to be, particularly when Finlin sounds as if this song could have had 13 verses instead of the two rather longer ones presented.

Finlin’s work isn’t exactly prone to keeping things in a cookie-cutter format, as the rather darker and murky rock-leaning “Postcard from Topeka” would suggest. In fact, it sounds as if he’s been inspired by the Cure or some semblance of a psychedelic-tinged Tom Petty on this rather guitar-heavy track. Yet despite the odd nature, it seems to generally work. It’s not the highlight here, but it’s worth a listen or two. Things get back to basics with the sweet and infectious mid-tempo pop-oriented “Soho Rain”, which Finlin weaves more magic around, again bringing to mind a tune by John Hiatt that wouldn’t make the album but would be far less without it.

Perhaps the highlight of the album is how comfortable Finlin is between the warm, singer-songwriter tunes and those that take the album up a few notches, especially the ragged, edgy, and pleasing title track, which sounds like classic Petty and the Heartbreakers material. Another plus is how Finlin decides to flesh out the song near the conclusion, making it all the more memorable. But maybe the best part of the album is that Finlin never seems to go through the motions or set himself on cruise control. This is shown perfectly on “Don’t Know Why”, which a lot of artists could get through in their sleep, but Finlin slowly builds on the folksy, roots-y foundation and turns it into something much more than is expected.

There might be better singer-songwriters looming out there, but Jeff Finlin certainly measures up to those that are in “the know.”

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/jeff-finlin-angels-in-disguise/