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.