Jeff Finlin
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Jeff Finlin


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The best kept secret in music


"ballad for a plain man"

An almost famous singer

Springsteen is a Jeff Finlin fan. And with good reason, says Robin Eggar

Photo: Chip Goddard, Best Scenics - click image to see larger picture

The music world needs Jeff Finlin. Surprising, considering that he’s 45 and seven albums into a career that has never set corporate cash tills ringing. Although Bruce Springsteen plays his records at his gigs, and Cameron Crowe put Sugar Blue in his movie Elizabethtown, Finlin remains “undiscovered”. His gravel voice conjures up words that shine like diamonds. He’s a storyteller whose sparse songs are a musical accompaniment to Raymond Carver’s short stories or Sam Shepard’s plays. The beats - Kerouac, Ginsberg, William Burroughs - are essential influences. “They made everybody look at words in a different light”, he says. “I approach songs as little novellas.”
Angels in Disguise is his first major-label release. It is populated with faces and images that exist on the fringes of the American dream - a one-legged Vietnam vet turned bank robber (Postcard from Topeka), Geronimo running a native casino (Forever Evergreen) and, in the bleak Long Lonesome Death of the Traveling Man, tattoos carved in “strawberry curls against my black-leather grin”.

Descended from Irish railroad workers, Jeff grew up in Columbus, Ohio - a restless, difficult kid. “I ask my wife, ‘Why are you so content all the time?’ She says: ‘I was happy with the way things were. You just always wanted to change everything.’ I had this level of discontent and drive inside of me to see and do and experience. I had an intense desire to live life at its fullest, and that’s still what motivates me.”

After he finished high school, he hitchhiked west, trying to emulate his heroes. His adventures included a stint working in a circus and a night out drinking with Hunter S Thompson. “My job was to feed elephants, take the money for the freak show and keep the clowns in tequila. If I didn’t give them any, they were very angry clowns", he laughs. “I had a thing for the contortionist, but she wasn’t having it, so I headed down the road. I wound up in a bar and Hunter Thompson was there. As the night got later, he just came up to me and slapped me. We spent a day just drinking together, went to his house and blew up odd things with little sticks of dynamite. I remember about 45%, which is pretty good going for a bump in the night with one of my heroes.”

Returning home, he formed a band with schoolfriend Gwil Owen. He’d grown up on the Beatles and the Jackson 5, listening to Steely Dan, Led Zeppelin and the Stones on the radio and playing drums from the age of 11. “For me, the pinnacle of music was 1970-71. Those times in history are really rare. If Dylan or the Stones talked about Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Woody Guthrie, I was like, ‘Wow, I gotta check that out.’”

For the next few years, Finlin and Owen pursued their dreams of rock stardom, moving from Boston to LA before settling in Nashville. “I could afford to live there,” he says. “Nobody on a musician’s salary can afford to buy a house in southern California. I did whatever I could to get by. Paint houses, work in bars.” Eventually, the Thieves signed to Capitol and released one album, aptly titled Seduced by Money. An almost-hit later and the band were dropped. By now, Finlin was tired of playing drums, and suddenly the songs started pouring out.

“I’d met my wife, Karen, at that time, and I really had to break down a lot of walls to make the relationship work. With that, the songs just started coming. For a drummer to pick up and start writing songs in Nashville... a lot of people snickered under their breath. But I got a publishing deal and a record deal. I really never looked back from that.”

Since 1991, Finlin has released a series of increasingly confident albums on a variety of independent labels. He’s prolific, once writing a song a day for six months, but admits he can’t judge his best work.

“I pissed a Nashville songwriter off because he asked me how I came up with what he thought was a great song, but I didn’t write it, I wrote it down. I sit down, I get myself centred, I open myself up and it just comes in. It’s my gift, and that’s why I continue to do it, even when it’s not financially successful. I’m a successful musician because I have a wife with a good day job.”

Three years ago, Finlin, Karen and their son, Aidan, left Nashville for Fort Collins, Colorado. He knew too many talented musicians who were now slaves of the Nashville system. “I spent a lot of time trying to find fame and happiness, and my happiness didn’t come from success. My life was on the back burner because I put my music first. Life - riding motorcycles and horses, skiing and chasing grizzly bears - must come first.” His latest songs reflect that: “The record has an underlying theme of finding the good. Li - 5280 denver magazine

"live review"

Finlin's songwriting skill will put dynamic duo on musical map
"A FEW years ago a lot of people came down to Nashville", Jeff Finlin muses to his audience, "They had seen Garth Brooks fly and thought if they went there then maybe they could fly too. They have all left now."

That shuffling exodus was probably with no little embarrassment, if Finlin is representative of the talent that resides in his adopted home town. His current album Somewhere South of Wonder is bursting with songs that sound like lost classics, sung in a unique voice its owner didn't discover until his late twenties. It sounds like the most natural instrument in the world, but it took the break up of his band, The Thieves, and the love of a good woman to get it heard.

"It was very strange, because when I was playing drums with the band it was always just high harmonies and I never sang in my natural register", he says.

"After The Thieves I ended up meeting my wife, and to really make that relationship work, I found it was necessary to break down a lot of walls to reach areas where I had only really dabbled before."

He is touring with old friend Pat Buchanan, who played on and co-produced the aforementioned record, and tonight opens the show with Finlin accompanying him on drums.

This is real troubadour territory, with the pair conjuring a depth of sound that would make the White Stripes green with envy. They were forced to improvise when the bass player due to join them in London did not work out, and have fashioned a musical dynamic which simply should not be possible with only two people involved.

Buchanan is a phenomenal guitar player, be it electric or soaring bottleneck on a trusty old acoustic, describing his latest album as like "acoustic XTC meets Pet Sounds". It is beguiling, Beatle-tinged stuff, even if his gentle voice is overshadowed by his playing.

The pair briefly retire from the stage, then return with Finlin stepping from behind the snare, picking up a guitar and sidling up to the microphone, thereby completely reinventing themselves as the headline act.

`I Am The King' opens the album and tonight's set, proving that the voice is just as potent outside of a studio.

And what a voice it is, coloured by an adenoidal Randy Newman twang, mid-period Bob Dylan intonation, and the story-telling phraseology of Tom Waits.

If Buchanan impressed with his own material, he is absolutely devastating weaving in and out of the simple arrangements of his friend's songs. He does restrained and harmonic, sensitive country picking and note-bending rock acrobatics, accompanied by some of the best axe hero facial expressions this side of heavy metal.

Finlin's songs are studded with sharp observations, and when he sings of "God's gift of not knowing and tabloid magazines", it unerringly captured the atmosphere of the upstairs bar, packed with people in sportswear soaking up the all-day happy hour.

It is shameful that Finlin and Buchanan are not lauded from the rooftops, but are so grateful for the chance to earn a living playing music it hardly seems to matter, with the almost convincing assertion that they enjoy "being stinky guys in a van".

They stayed with the show promoters and were driven by their tour agent to the next date in Newcastle. Robbie Williams has just landed an £80m record deal. Somebody please go figure.

This was one of the best live shows I have seen this, or any other year. Mid-set Finlin says: "This is a song about waiting. I don't like to wait, but I'm better at it now than I used to be."

The waiting may soon be over, because a talent like this cannot stay a secret for ever.

Colin Somerville
Scotland on Sunday
6 October 2002

- scotland on sunday

"quotes and raves from around the world!!!"

Stateside troubadour Finlin could yet be the year's hidden gem, his rootsy rock and roll balanced by his pithy lyrics and singer-songwriter credibility.
His dry vocal rasps through settings from the Steve Earle-styled rock of Good Time to the jangly I Am The King, which recalls Counting Crows at their best. Elsewhere there are hints of Dr John, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Fun Lovin' Criminals and Bob Dylan, although Finlin remains very much more than just the sum of his influences.

Sugar Blue is one of the best songs you'll hear this summer and could propel the album into the annual pundit polls. more

Paul Cole, Sunday Mercury

A distinctively gruff troubadour's voice, a well-read poet's sensitivity, and an emotional honesty in conveying bluesy hard-won angst - those are the disparate elements that combine in the soulful music of the American original known as Jeff Finlin. more
Gary Glauber
Finlin’s music is never confined to one particular landscape but links them all into one big sonic panorama. This record is like spending the best part of an hour with a gifted storyteller, and for the stripped-down proof of his songwriting skills, look no further than the stunning simplicity of ‘Alchemy’. more
Colin Somerville, Scotland on Sunday

Finlin’s piercing, Dylanesque narratives and melodies have the ear of an increasing UK audience. Delta Down, a song from his Somewhere South of Wonder album, was voted the No. 1 track of 2002 in a poll of listeners to Virgin Radio’s Captain America show. He senses positive change in the air, and not only for himself. more
Paul Sexton, The Times magazine
In picking a quote from Jeff Finlin's lyric sheet you could almost paste it on a dartboard and shoot blindfolded. There is not a misplaced vowel, not a stranded verb. Everything seems to flow smoothly and eloquently. Jeff is truly a "natural poet." more

For some his voice is one only a mother could love, but for me its sandpapery, quavering sound is one of the most evocative around. ... 'Sugar Blue' has a louche late night feel and the performance is magnificent. ... great song after great song passes through. more
Jeremy Searle, Americana UK
Jeff Finlin is not someone you can tire of easily, he writes excellent songs with thoughtful lyrics and strong melodies. You wouldn't be taking any chances by buying 'Original Fin', the album grows with every play. more
c j holley
Get Rhythm

I deign to limit Finlin’s broad conceptual muse with comparisons, but his ability to craft a deep emotion out of mere words recall the songwriting skill of Dylan, the original arrangement and producer skills of Springsteen, and the heart of, well, Finlin.
This is not a record for the lowest common denominator of the populace, but it’s a beautiful gift for the rest of us. Can I give six stars? more

Charlene Blevins
Music Row
His skill for marrying smart-yet-simple, honest narrative to fresh, intimate melodies elevates him far above the average musical fray. Somewhere South of Wonder is an earthy mix of heartfelt blues from everyday folks coping with life and love, joy and despair, expressed through the raspy filter of Finlin's compelling voice.
These haunting musical tales weave an aural tapestry that bears closer examination on lazy afternoons and in the wee hours of the night, where its powerful sounds best fill the lonely empty spaces of an oft-moody, quietly unpredictable universe. more

Gary Glauber,

Finlin carves his own little folk-rock nook with a healthy shot of blue-collar, bar-band muscle and a razor-sharp, even Axl Rose-ish(!) vocal delivery that snarls as much as it yearns. His romantic tales range from playful to desperate; imagery often travels time as well as space. more
Neal Weiss, No Depression
Since the songs deal with topics on a humane, head-on level and mix in casual wit and charm, Finlin finds himself in the same field plowed by John Hiatt and John Prine. His stark Blues/Folk is an earthly romp as full of emotion and honesty as his lyrics. more
Mike Breen,
Cincinnati City Beat

With a sneering delivery and hard-hitting backup thump, Jeff Finlin sounds like a veteran. His cynical songs of experience writhe with roots-rock catchiness. Sharp lyrics and a sly voice draw you in immediately.
Lycos Music
Finlin writes with the minimalist grit of Sam Shepard and Raymond Carver. He sings in a gnarl reminiscent of Graham Parker. Tune in and you will hear an elusive magic.
Dave Hoekstra, Chicago Sun Times

Finlin is a natural poet... interesting compilations of thought-provoking ear poetry.
Mike Breen, Cincinnati City Beat
Imagine Steve Earle with three cups of espresso and a thesaurus.
Rusty Russell, Music Row Magazine

If Jeff Finlin were not a songwriter, it’s likely he’d be a novelist and he’d fall somewhere between Kerouac, Twain and Vonnegut.
W - many


ANGELS IN DISGUISE Release worldwide on Warner Brothers/Rykodisc 2007
_Jeff Finlin Composition “Sugar Blue”
Included on soundtrack for the major motion picture “Elizabethtown” 2006
_Jeff Finlin composition Sugar Blue
Included in the major motion picture “Elizabethtown” 2006
EPINONYMOUS Bent Wheel Records---2005
BMG/Gravity Records---2002
HIGHWAY DIARIES Mercury/Little dog records-1996
ORIGINAL FIN BMG/Gravity Records----1999
LONELY LIGHT Bent Wheel Records—1991


Feeling a bit camera shy


Jeff Finlin Bio

Born in Cleveland, Ohio, the grandson of Irish railroad workers Jeff Finlin is a unique artist. His career has taken many twists and turns.
He started out traveling America in autos, trains, planes, and hitchhiking, before settling down to play in bands in Boston, Ohio and L.A. He finally wound up in Nashville with long-time mate Gwil Owen ("A Softer Place to Fall") to form the rock band the Thieves, which put out the Marshall Crenshaw produced "Seduced by Money" on Capitol Records.
In 1993, he went on to produce the self-released "Lonely Light"
In 1994 he produced the Little Dog/ Mercury release, "Highway Diaries”.
Next it was on to New York, where Jeff incorporated the likes of Mark Ribot (Tom Waits and Elvis Costello) and Tony Garnier (Bob Dylan), to produce Original Fin, which was released on BMG/Gravity in the UK and Ireland and NBFNY in the U.S.
Then in 2002 "Somewhere South of Wonder” came out with a vengeance, garnering Finlin 'Album of the Year' accolades on Virgin Radio's Captain America show, and a tour opening for Steve Earle in the U.K. and Ireland.
Finlin then released the much anticipated follow-up, “ ANGELS IN DISGUISE” - a musical and spiritual foray into the heart of the everyman and how he discovers and comes to terms with his selfless self.
Recorded in Colorado and Nashville with long-time cohorts Will Kimbrough and Pat Buchanan, it picks up in the stark American landscape where "Somewhere South of Wonder" left off. It recalls the work of Newman, Waits and other American pioneers who have channeled there experience into their work

“ANGELS IN DISGUISE” was released by Warner Brothers U.K. in September 2006
and will be released by Rykodisc in the U.S. on April 3rd, 2007

Recently Jeff’s song “SUGAR BLUE” was included in the Paramount pictures film
“Elizabethtown”, --written and directed by Cameron Crow.