Ballad of a Plain Man
With a voice that's as fluid as molasses, Finlin sings from a weary but resilient point of view. Sounding like a cocksure barfly, he balances himself precipitously between a swagger and a stagger while crooning songs that run an emotionally frayed gamut, from subdued shuffles ("Is This Love," "Highway Home") to Southern funk ("Jesus Was a Motorcycle Man") to pointed deliberations on inevitability and defiance ("Goodbye Is Just Another Freight Train Comin'," "What's the Big Idea?"). With his grit and resolve, it's easy to imagine him swapping stories with Tom Waits, Randy Newman, and Van Morrison... should a lonely weekend ever find them bonding for a boys' night out. (www.jefffinlin.com)
The Spinto Band
Here's another dash of inebriation courtesy of the Spinto Band, a U.K. combo that sways, swoons, and croons with so much infectious energy, it feels as woozy as a ride on a Tilt-a-Whirl. Melodies sway like a pendulum, bolstered by warbled vocals and kinetic rhythms that torch the tempos. Taking their cue from other British bands like Madness, Blur, and the Undertones, they go for giddy, pure-pop indulgence. The la-la chorus of "Pumpkins & Paisley" and the dizzying, disarming intoxication of "Later On," "The Black Flag," and "The Carnival" ensure continuing enjoyment. (www.spintoband.com)
Notes From the Underground
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An American expatriate in Paris, Elliott Murphy's never lost the street savvy and restless rock 'n' roll spirit he gleaned on the streets of New York in the early '70s, when he was tagged a new Dylan and surrogate Springsteen. Thirty years on, Murphy's shed those labels, and though his later albums haven't attracted the notice that earlier efforts like Aquashow, Night Lights, and Just a Story From America once did, his vitality and passion remain undiminished. Indeed, after more than two dozen admirable outings, his latest, Notes From the Underground, sounds as compelling as ever, a bohemian rhapsody wrapped in bittersweet anthems fueled by tenacity and profundity. (www.elliottmurphy.com)
The Hungry Saw
When they convened in the early '90s, Tindersticks were hailed as one of the distinctive acts of the U.K. indie scene. In truth, their brooding chamber pop couched dark desires, nodding to the moody terrain traversed by Leonard Cohen, Joy Division, Nick Cave, David Bowie, and Scott Walker. Their new album marks a comeback of sorts after a split in 2006. Stuart Staples' distinctive croon, the minor-chord melodies, and arrangements built on swirling strings, solitary keyboards, and discreet woodwinds create a sensual brew. From the folk-laden "Yesterdays Tomorrows" to the billowing embrace of "Boobar Come Back to Me," it's a work of shimmering, incandescent beauty. (www.tindersticks.co.uk)