Jeff Finlin and Pat Buchanan
The Greys, Brighton - September 29 2002
Watching Jeff Finlin onstage at The Greys, his sturdy frame in an attitude of straining readiness towards the microphone, I found myself fascinated, wondering how and when he had discovered his extraordinary voice. Later, he told me that he had taken around ten years to develop it, that it was changing all the time and that by the time he reaches 60 he hopes it will be an instrument as special and distinctive as John Lee Hooker's.
If you don't already know Finlin's work, it probably won't take you quite that long to acquire a taste for it, but it may still take a bit of persistence. It'll be worth it, though. Starting his musical career as a drummer in the Boston post-punk scene, he has moved on to become a songwriter of muscular precision. His songs are pitched somewhere between reality and poetic truth and he wrenches them from his throat in a voice powerfully reminiscent of Bob Dylan and Tom Waits, but altogether his own.
The ace Nashville session guitarist Pat Buchanan, a somewhat dishevelled figure with a boyish mop top which we can only assume is a form of homage to his hero Paul McCartney, accompanied Finlin at The Greys. Their delight as they surprised one another with what they told us was a nightly recreation of the songs was infectious and had the effect of lightening some of Finlin's lyrics. So, for the first time, I heard the humour and sweetness in his song about paternal jealousy, She's A Mama Now, and the tenderness in Sugar Blue. There was also room for tragedy with a majestic version of the suicide story song, The Perfect Mark of Cain.
Buchanan's relationship with his guitar was so intimate, it felt almost intrusive to watch. There were times, as he coaxed and bullied it to make almost ethereal sounds, that it seemed to me he and the instrument were the same being. If they are, then I know just where the connection comes - it's at the point where the little finger of his left hand splays flat from years of travelling up and down the fretboard.
Earlier Buchanan had played the axeman a little more when, with Finlin joining him on the drums, he presented us with some of his own genial, poppy material. The highlight of his set came when Finlin, appealingly donning his reading glasses to read the lyric sheet, joined Buchanan on vocals for a growling, menacing The World Is Flat.