Jeff Finlin - Life After Death (Man In The Moon Records) 1

Jeff Finlin – Life After Death (Man In The Moon Records)

I’m always a sucker for a singer enthusing about an “ice-cold lager beer“, and we’re helpfully treated to that phrase on track two – the excellently titled ‘My Rosy Crucifixion By The Sea‘. A simple pleasure but these are the things that make the world go round. And this quietly excellent album is a simple affair too. A rich, country-ish drawl, plaintive guitar, and some basic drums to keep things rolling along. Slide in some occasional slick horns, and piano lubricating the way in a rather complete fashion and you have a kind of lonely alchemy about proceedings.

Cast by The Chicago Sun Times as, “[writing] with the minimalist grit of Sam Shepard and Raymond Carver“, Jeff Finlin produces evocative music seemingly meant for drifting along the highways, byways and rail tracks. There’s a real travelogue feel to the whole of Life After Death. Each one of the 20 tunes on this career-retrospective feels like a new turning on some mythical journey across the landscape of America. ‘Hole In My Belly‘ may not be literal but it doesn’t half conjure up images and emotions of wandering with tattered shoes in search of the next port of call.

Perhaps ‘Sugar Blue‘ will be the most familiar here for the uninitiated. Featured in Cameron Crowe‘s Elizabethtown, alongside Tom Petty and Lyndsey Buckingham, it has a lilting majesty about it. Violins alongside the rustic twang and slide guitar. More polished than some others here it nevertheless fits firmly into the box marked Americana.

Life After Death is one of those pleasing records that has a totality that belies its ingredients list. There’s nothing that you haven’t heard before but when things click there’s a real iridescent beauty. ‘Postcard From Topeka‘ with its curious sprinkling of electronic warbles positively shines. You can easily break it down to its parts and identify where you’ve heard them before but put them together and an unexpected swing and groove comes alive. A real highlight on a record that ebbs and flows but rarely dips.

The scorched post box in front of the endless badlands above is a pin point perfect image for this record. There is a grit and edge about the, at times, quite desolate lyrics. And the music is very much part of that never-ending thread of country influence in American music. In ways that sometimes flummox, the familiar combination manages to sound fresh and alive. Weary, perhaps, but intentionally so, and always alive and kicking. A bittersweet optimism threads through the whole. It is in a tradition, it’s not hugely original, but that beguiling quality shines through.

Despite covering eight previous albums, Life After Death feels like a cohesive window into the soul of Jeff Finlin. A soul you suspect has been subjected to a whole gamut of dignities and indignities…yet lived to tell the tale. A story of a country through one man. Mature songwriting – if that isn’t too horrific a critique – it’s rather expertly realised with the requisite amount of emotion mixed with late night detachment. An unexpected and deeply personal delight of a record.

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.