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Album Review

THE TAO OF
JEFF FINLIN

An old friend of mine used to say that if you wanted to know about music, you had to talk to a musician. That very thing popped into my head one afternoon as Lyons, Colorado's Ash Ganley and I were trading emails bemoaning the present state of the music industry--- i.e., how hard it is to even get your music heard, let alone bought. While I used Ganley as an example, he used Jeff Finlin, a musician I'd not heard of until then. Finlin, it turns out, bases himself out of Fort Collins, Colorado, cranks out poetic singer/songwriter fare of exceptional quality (or so said Ganley) and is a star awaiting discovery. I confess to rolling my eyes a little, having followed many a suggestion toward less-than-star-but-good-quality musicians, but Ganley was so persistent I knew I could not disregard his comments.

Upon hearing Finlin's latest album, The Tao of Motor Oil, my eyes stopped rolling. Finlin is everything Ganley said and more. I won't say you heard it here first because everybody and his brother is already saying it and if you haven't heard it, you (like myself) haven't been paying attention, evidently. God knows it is hard enough to find all but the media darlings (just try to evade mentions of Lady Gaga and every other flavor of the moment--- it ain't possible--- while searching for the unknown but deserving), but a simple search turned up major publications and writers saying the praiseworthy things about Finlin usually reserved for can't-miss musicians. Even Uncut's Nigel Williamson, a critic I go out of my way to read, wrote this:

Last seen in the UK supporting Steve Earle, Finlin is an all-American original whose singing recalls John Hiatt, Dylan, and even Dr. John. But his songwriting has its own unique character and seems to become more honed and concentrated with every album.”

Williamson nails the singing part, though I hear a slight Leon Russell rather than Dr. John edge (potaytoes, potahtoes, eh?), and I cannot attest to earlier albums, having heard only this one. But allow me to say, “What he said.” Protest a comparison, however slight, to Hiatt, Dylan and Dr. John? Not me! I hear it. More than that, I feel it. You will, too, if you give it half a chance.

What Finlin has are the somethings you can't put into words but have been the fabric of artists such as Dylan, Townes Van Zandt, John Prine and others, all too few and all a step above. There is a sound or combination of words and song or something which defies a true description, though you can point to moments. Like when Finlin sings this verse from Hands Off the Wheel: “Well, she cried like Utah in the flash flood spring/I could still smell the summer on her freckled skin.” The way Finlin sings it, I doubt I will ever see a freckled girl again without the smell of summer in my head. Or this from La Luna: “You can sleep and I will drive/We'll watch the skyline drift away/Thank God we made it out this time/Ain't much sacred left there these days/All we stake and all we choose/Ain't nothing in the light here on the bay/Of La Luna/Shining like God's own little blade/La Luna/Breathing in the mortal's empty face.” Not doing it for you? Well, these words were not meant to be read, they were meant to be sung, and when Finlin sings them they come alive. A test. Try to imagine reading the lyrics to Dylan's All Along the Watchtower before having heard it. Try hard. Now tell me the lyrics are the same without the music. Well, maybe you could tell me, but you certainly couldn't convince me. Is Jeff Finlin Bob Dylan or Townes Van Zandt? No. But he composes and performs on the same plane.

So what am I doing writing about someone who is getting press all over the place? Me, a person who is practically allergic to the popular and the mainstream? It's simple. I'm assuming that some of you, like myself, are victims of this cosmic joke which conceals the best in spite of our attempts to find it. I'm doing you a favor. I'm telling you that The Tao of Motor Oil is among the best. And this time, I'm hardly the only one who thinks it.

Frank O. Gutch Jr.

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